Infrastructure firms could face fines of up to £17m if they do not have adequate cybersecurity measures in place, the UK government has announced today.
The plans follow proposals earlier this year from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport intended to comply with the EU Network and Information Systems (NIS) Directive, which comes into effect next May.
The government intends to use those powers on grounds of national security; a potential threat to public safety; or the possibility of significant adverse social or economic impact resulting from a disruptive incident.
The powers will also cover other threats affecting IT such as power outages, hardware failures and environmental hazards. Critical infrastructure firms will also be required to show they have a strategy to cover such incidents.
The maximum penalty will be applied if firms are deemed to have not cooperated with the competent authority, failed to report an incident, not complied with the regulator's instruction, or failed to implement appropriate and proportionate security measures.
Under the measures recent cyber breaches such as WannaCry would be covered by the NIS Directive.
Threats against Blighty's national infrastructure appear to be increasing. In November, Ciaran Martin, chief exec of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), revealed that hackers acting on behalf of Russia had targeted the UK's telecommunications, media and energy sectors.
Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, said: "Today we are setting out new and robust cybersecurity measures to help ensure the UK is the safest place in the world to live and be online.
"We want our essential services and infrastructure to be primed and ready to tackle cyber attacks and be resilient against major disruption to services."
Incidents will have to be reported to the regulator, which will assess whether appropriate security measures were in place. The regulator will have the power to issue legally binding instructions to improve security, and – if appropriate – impose financial penalties.
The measures will dramatically increase the limit regulators can impose on companies.
In October 2016, TalkTalk was hit with a record £400,000 fine by the Information Commissioner's Office for not taking adequate steps to prevent the personal data of 156,959 customers – including names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers and email addresses – from being accessed by hackers.
The NCSC has today published guidance on the security measures to help organisations comply. Martin said: "Our new guidance will give clear advice on what organisations need to do to implement essential cybersecurity measures.
"Network and information systems give critical support to everyday activities, so it is absolutely vital that they are as secure as possible." ®