Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are a vital element of the economy, accounting for 99.9% of UK businesses, generating three fifths of employment and turnover of £2.3 trillion. They are a crucial asset requiring protection as part of our overall national resilience. Unfortunately, the UK Cyber Security Breaches Survey indicates that half of small and a third of micro businesses experienced breaches or attacks in the last year. Moreover, while they frequently seek external guidance in relation to cyber security, they do so via a huge range of sources, and often find themselves overwhelmed with information and unable to understand the advice. Research is required to better understand SME needs and the perspective of those that they turn to for support, and to then use these insights as a foundation for the design and evaluation of a new and more accessible approach.
Investigating SMEs needs and available support
The research begins with an investigation of the support needs of small businesses, to establish their current understanding and confidence around cyber security, and their awareness and perceptions of available support. The investigation will seek to determine the scenarios in which cyber security advice is sought (e.g. during product evaluation, at point of purchase, in response to threats and incidents), and whether it is deemed effective. In parallel, the project analyses support routes available to these businesses, with focus upon the coverage and consistency of advice, as well as the confidence and capacity of those providing it. This will include a range of online and in-person sources, in order to capture the diversity of routes that businesses themselves tend to pursue, and will include those specifically designated to provide support (e.g. Cyber Resilience Centres) and those that may find themselves facing cyber security queries when potentially less well-placed to handle them (e.g. retailers).
From these foundations, the research then conducts more detailed analysis of business and advisor experiences by tracking individual support journeys as they occur. This offers more direct intelligence on the nature and volume of support being sought, as well as the extent to which the requests led to an effective outcome. The analysis delivers a series of case studies identifying factors that led to successful or unsuccessful outcomes.
Forming Communities of Support
The findings inform activities to enhance support provision through the design, implementation and pilot evaluation of Cyber Security Communities of Support (CyCOS), representing local collaboration and cooperation between SMEs and advisory sources. The foundations include the creation of an online Support Broker, enabling the SMEs to identify support needs and contact advisory sources positioned to help them (which, as the community develops and grows in experience, may include peer support from other SMEs). In parallel, the project offers upskilling opportunities for advisors and interested SMEs, via foundational cyber security certification to increase their related knowledge and capability. The project will then trial the operation of the CyCOS via three pilots. This will enable practical evaluation of the approach, culminating an established and repeatable model that can then be adopted more widely.
The 30-month project contributes to national resilience by addressing an area of existing vulnerability and potential compromise. It will enhance understanding of SMEs’ cyber security support needs and the ability to address them, while enabling SMEs themselves to recognise and embrace a core aspect of their digital responsibility.
To investigate the cyber security support needs of SMEs and their awareness of support routes available to, and used by, them. This is explored through an industry wide survey.
Additionally, assessing the capabilities and experiences of advisory sources that SMEs rely on for guidance, knowledge and support.
To capture and document case examples of interactions between SMEs and advisors in order to fully characterise the related support journeys and outcomes.
To design and establish the foundations for Cyber Security Communities of Support, enabling collaborations that enhance the level and availability of specialist support available to SMEs.
To evaluate and refine the CyCOS initiative via a series of pilot activities, ensuring an effective, repeatable and sustainable model for wider use.