The head of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has said that the UK will undoubtedly face a major cyber attack.
Chief executive officer Ciaran Martin suggested that the attack could interfere with elections or critical infrastructure. He added that the country has been lucky to avoid such an attack as countries including France and the US have already experienced them.
He said: “Most comparable western countries have experienced what we would consider a category one attack so we have been fortunate in avoiding that to date.”
A so-called ‘category one’ (C1) attack could bring down energy supplies and the financial sector. Deliberate provocation by a hostile state could also constitute a C1 attack.
Speaking to the Guardian, Mr Martin said: “I think it is a matter of when, not if, and we will be fortunate to come to the end of the decade without having to trigger a category one attack.”
He added that it is impossible to prevent against all attacks, saying that some will “get through” and that the correct response in that situation would be to “cauterise the damage”.
It came as head of the British Army Sir Nick Carter highlighted the cyber warfare capabilities shown by Russia, which could have a devastating effect on both military and civilian services.
So far, the most serious cyber attack the UK has faced was the WannaCry ransomware attack that struck in May 2017. It disrupted hospitals and businesses, but despite its impact, it was classified as a C2 attack rather than C1. This was due in part to the fact there was no risk to life.