Act now to tackle cyber attack threat, warns ex-GCHQ head

Feb 16, 2020

Robert Hannigan addresses the dinner hosted by Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership.

BUSINESSES face an increasing risk of cyber attack, the former head of the government’s intelligence and security agency GCHQ has warned.

Robert Hannigan CMG said that with the ransomware threat growing, no business regardless of size is immune.

Coining the phrase “secure by design”’, Mr Hannigan encouraged businesses to improve their security and, for start-ups, make it an integral component right from the beginning:

Speaking at a business dinner in Milton Keynes, Mr Hannigan delivered an insight into the parallel universe of cybercrime and the dark web. “All businesses are open to some form of cyber attack and the damage can be exponential,” he said.

Very often human error enables criminals to infiltrate a company’s system. Mr Hannigan called for good practices and communication among all members of staff. 

Robert Hanigan centre is pictured with MKBPLP board members Nick Mann, Jan Flawn, Dr Julie Mills and Simon DeMaid

Drawing comparisons with the codebreakers at Bletchley Park, Mr Hannigan, now a senior executive of BlueVoyant, called for a greater pipeline of young talent to join cybersecurity, an industry which will see global vacancies reach 1.8 million by 2022.

“The Bletchley Park codebreakers were not all mathematicians and engineers. Many used basic human skills to crack the code and decipher human error on the German side. These problem-solving skills and the ability to understand human behaviour are integral to roles within cybersecurity,” Mr Hannigan told his audience at the dinner, hosted by Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership at Holiday Inn Central Milton Keynes. 

“Having a mix of all these people throwing about different ways of thinking creates real diversity. And it is something we leveraged at GCHQ.”

He welcomed the planned Institute of Technology at Bletchley Park. “We do not necessarily need traditionally academic people, just those with an aptitude for technology. We need to find this talent and harness it.”

On the topic of diversity, Mr Hannigan once again drew comparisons to Bletchley Park, where three quarters of the workers were women. “We need to knock down the myths and stereotypes and create messaging around coding and engineering which appeals to teenage girls.”

He acknowledged the importance of attracting girls into cybersecurity roles, generating a debate among the audience of 80 business leaders on the importance of retaining females in STEM and technology roles and how this plays a vital role in the successful future of businesses.

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