Tougher telecoms security rules to defend UK from cyber attack

London, UK

The UK government has launched a public consultation on a proposal for new regulations and codes to raise telecoms security standards.  The new, stronger security rules will set out what telecoms providers must do to protect their networks and services, in order to better protect mobile and broadband networks from cyber attacks.

The Telecommunications (Security) Act became law in November last year and puts much stronger legal duties on public telecoms providers to defend their networks from cyber threats which could cause network failure or the theft of sensitive data.

The government launched a public consultation on the 1st of March, on draft regulations, which outline the specific measures telecoms providers would need to take to fulfil their legal duties under the Act, and a draft code of practice on how providers can comply with the regulations.

The proposed measures and guidance, developed with the National Cyber Security Centre, aim to embed good security practices in providers’ long term investment decisions and the day-to-day running of their networks and services.

Under the draft regulations telecoms providers will be legally required to do the following:

  • protect data stored by their networks and services, and secure the critical functions which allow them to be operated and managed;
  • protect tools which monitor and analyse their networks and services against access from hostile state actors;
  • monitor public networks to identify potentially dangerous activity and have a deep understanding of their security risks, reporting regularly to internal boards; and
  • take account of supply chain risks, and understand and control who has the ability to access and make changes to the operation of their networks and services.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said: "Broadband and mobile networks are crucial to life in Britain and that makes them a prime target for cyber criminals. Our proposals will embed the highest security standards in our telecoms industry with heavy fines for any companies failing in their duties."

The consultation seeks views on plans to place telecoms providers into three ‘tiers’ via a new code of practice according to size and importance to UK connectivity. This will ensure steps to be taken under the code are applied proportionately and do not put an undue burden on smaller companies.

Currently, telecoms providers are responsible by law for setting their own security standards in their networks. But the Telecoms Supply Chain Review carried out by the government found providers often have little incentive to adopt the best security practices.

To deliver the revolutionary economic and social benefits of 5G and gigabit-capable broadband connections, the government created the Telecommunications (Security) Act to strengthen the overarching legal duties on providers of UK public telecoms networks and services as a way of incentivising better security practices.

Companies which fail to comply could face fines of up to ten per cent of turnover or, in the case of a continuing contravention, £100,000 per day. Ofcom will monitor and assess the security of telecoms providers.

NCSC Technical Director Dr Ian Levy said: "Modern telecoms networks are no longer just critical national infrastructure, they are central to our lives and our economy. As our dependence on them grows, we need confidence in their security and reliability which is why I welcome these proposed regulations to fundamentally change the baseline of telecoms security.

The NCSC has worked closely with DCMS and industry to propose and advise on the most effective measures that telecoms operators can take to ensure the resilience of UK broadband and mobile networks, now and into the future."

The consultation will close on 10th May, 2022. The new regulations and code of practice are expected to come into force later this year.


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