Government names resilience head to help harden departments to cyberthreat

Mary Jones will take charge of directorate committed to protecting critical infrastructure and biological security

Picture credit: Wokandapix/Pixabay

The government has appointed a head of resilience to help harden government to cyberattacks and other threats following a commitment by the Cabinet Office to establish the role last year.

Cabinet Office secretary of state Oliver Dowden named Mary Jones as the first appointee to the new role while giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry last week. Members of the inquiry were grilling the minister on how government is working to improve its resilience to crises such as future pandemics.

Jones will head up the Resilience Directorate in the Cabinet Office, which was created to help establish a more strategic approach to national resilience and coordinate efforts across government to strengthen it. She was awarded an OBE for public service in the 2021 New Years honours for her previous work at the Cabinet Office, where she worked on Brexit, home affairs and constitutional issues. She joined the Office for Life Sciences as a deputy director in 2020.

Dowden said that the directorate she leads will look at strategies such as the Biological Security Strategy; resilience to cyberattacks; actions to bolster critical national infrastructure resilience; net-zero strategies – and “all of those cross-government efforts that ensure that these crises don’t happen in the first place, as well as the resilience for when they do”.

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Preparing for and mitigating cyberthreats has become one of the central strands of government resilience efforts. The recently launched GovAssure initiative requires all departments to undergo annual independent audits of their cyber resilience, and implement upgrades as required.

A Government Security Read Team last year launched an exercise to target three departments with digital penetration testing and on-the-ground hostile reconnaissance and human engineering intended to identify “vulnerabilities and exploitable information” at three – unnamed – departments and advise on areas of concern of possible improvements.

The department announced plans to appoint a head of resilience in December under a new UK Government Resilience Framework, following a commitment in the 2021 Integrated Review to strengthen the government’s approach to resilience.

It said the job would complement the existing role of the national security adviser and support the broader goal to avoid a repeat of the Covid pandemic, where “treating [it] as a health emergency meant that there was limited planning outside of the healthcare sector”.

The head of resilience’s role is to ensure government does not “lose sight of the longer-term challenges”, Dowden said.

Asked how the head of resilience role differs to the pre-existing director of national resilience job in the Cabinet Office, Dowden said: “The principal difference is the split that I described to you… ensuring that we have both the focus on the challenges as they hit, the immediate management of those, and taking the longer-term risk – the longer-term view,” he added.

On 4 July we are delighted to invite all our readers to the PublicTechnology Cyber Security Conference – which is open only to public-sector delegates and is completely free to attendThe one-day conference will gather together cyber and information security professionals from across public services to hear from senior leaders and engage with their peers. Beginning with a keynote from Ministry of Justice security chief Amie Alekna, discussing how engage the entirety of an incredibly diverse and dispersed workforce in their cyber responsibilities, the programme also features exclusive presentations from senior leaders representing the Ministry of Defence, Oxford University, the City of London Police and the Government Security Group. Additionally, the event will include two behind-closed-doors roundtable discussions, enabling attendees to openly share their priorities and pain points with other cyber professionals.

The event also offers a full day of complimentary award-winning food and drink, and the chance to meet with counterparts from across the public sector. Find out more or register here for your free place.

Beckie Smith and Sam Trendall

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