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February 22, 2023updated 27 Jun 2023 3:15pm

The UK suffers more cyberattacks than any other European country

Underinvestment in cybersecurity could be to blame for the high number of attacks on UK targets.

By Claudia Glover

The UK suffered the most cyberattacks of any country in Europe in the last year according to new research, which shows the nation’s energy sector remains one of the most common targets for hackers. A national trend in underspending when it comes to cybersecurity may be to blame.

The UK suffers more cyberattacks than any other European country. (Photo by Sven Hansche/Shutterstock)

IBM’s X-Force Threat Intelligence Index report, released today, shows that the UK accounted for 43% of attacks observed in Europe over the past 12 months. The energy and finance sectors suffered the most breaches each suffering 16% of the UK’s cyberattacks in 2022. 

UK suffers the most cyberattacks in Europe

Other countries in Europe trail in the UK’s wake. Germany came in at a not-very-close second with 14% of attacks, followed by Portugal at 9%, Italy at 8% and France at 7%.

IT vulnerabilities were by far the most common intrusion route into UK systems in 2022, almost double the average for the rest of Europe. According to the report, “last year, 50% of UK incidents were caused by exploitation of vulnerabilities, highlighting the need for stronger vulnerability management programs, including better understanding of attack surfaces and risk-based prioritisation of patches”.

Meanwhile, as the UK faces up to the effects of the economic downturn, elements of critical national infrastructure such as its energy network could become even more of a target. “With rising energy bills a key factor on UK consumer finances, the report highlights the threat of further pressure on an already vulnerable energy sector,” IBM’s researchers said.

“[This increases] the potential for data breach costs to trickle down to consumers through price rises. As many UK businesses strive to carefully manage costs, there is a heightened risk of cybersecurity investment falling and vulnerabilities proliferating,”

These vulnerabilities are used most commonly to implement back-door deployments, where malware provides remote access to the attacker. These comprised 18% of cases in the UK in 2022. Gaining back-door access often precedes ransomware attacks, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and deployment of remote access tools, which were each involved in 14% of cyber incidents in the UK. 

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A drop in cybersecurity spending may be to blame

A report into cyber threat defence released by security company CyberEdge in 2022 highlights that security budgets in the UK have remained flat since 2021, with 11.3% of the average IT budget being spent on security. This puts the country 13th globally in terms of such spending.

The challenges laid out in the report need to be addressed if the UK is to make its national cyber strategy a reality, says James Sullivan, director of cyber research at the Royal United Services Institute think tank.

“This provides valuable evidence to show that cybercrime, in particular extortion from ransomware and fraud, continues to impact the UK,” Sullivan said. “If the UK’s aspiration for a ‘whole of society’ approach to cyber resilience is to be realised, how the country responds to cyber extortion over the coming years may be one way to bring the concept to life,” he said.

Businesses must take a dynamic approach to combat the threats they face, added Julian David, CEO of tech trade organisation techUK. “At a time of real economic uncertainty, this report makes it clear that cyberattacks result in significant costs for organisations and citizens across the UK,” David said. “The surge in extortion-based attacks is a real concern and it is critical that all UK organisations implement a flexible cyber strategy that encompasses people, process and technology. No out-of-the-box solution guards against these ever-changing and pervasive threats.”

Read more: So what are Labour’s tech policies, exactly?

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