UK gov to fund cyber security training to protect coronavirus research

NCSC warns of heightened risk of cyber attacks against companies working on a coronavirus vaccine

The government is offering to part-fund cyber security training for pharmaceutical and healthcare firms to protect the UK's work on a coronavirus vaccine.

Small and medium-sized businesses, such as medical suppliers and primary care providers, are being encouraged to apply for part of a £500,000 grant which will go towards the cost of a consultation and certification for the government's Cyber Essentials course.

The initiative follows a notice from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) of a potential threat to the UK's health sector during the pandemic. There have been a number of reports that cyber criminals are attempting to steal intel and personal information from pharmaceutical companies, as well as medical research organisations.

In July, the NCSC revealed that a unit of Russian hackers had targeted UK companies and universities working on a potential vaccine. These attempts were thwarted by UK security services and condemned as "despicable" by Paul Chichester, the NCSC's director of operations.

"Protecting healthcare has been our top priority during the Covid-19 pandemic and we have been working hard to ensure organisations can keep themselves secure," said Chichester.

"While we will continue to support them, signing up to initiatives such as Cyber Essentials is an excellent way for organisations to help themselves. Those who have not already taken up this offer should do so – it will help ensure they have fundamental security protections in place, even in the most challenging of times."

The Cyber Essentials certification includes training to make sure all phones, tablets, laptops, or computers are kept up-to-date, in-depth explainers on the correct use of firewalls, and advice on user access control so companies can see who is accessing specific material.

Firms can also opt to receive support from one of the programme's cyber experts, who will look at their organisation as a whole, identify its security risks, and help develop and implement a business continuity plan.

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