As the national network of Cyber Resilience Centres continues to expand, we’re bringing you a series of interviews with some of the Policing teams heading up each Centre to get their take on the challenges facing each region. In today’s blog, we talk to Alison Hurst, Director at the West Midlands Cyber Resilience Centre (WMCRC) about her passion for helping small businesses and the challenges of moving to online working:
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to your role at WMCRC:
I am Alison Hurst, and I am the Director of the WMCRC but also a Detective Superintendent working within the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit. I am married with two children and reside in the West Midlands area where I have lived all my life.
I have been in policing for over 25 years and have thoroughly enjoyed working across a number of policing areas and portfolios throughout this time. I have spent the last six years as an investigator and more recently as the senior lead working with strategic partners from across the West Midlands to help keep the most vulnerable victims safe.
I was particularly attracted to the role of Director of the West Midlands Cyber Resilience Centre as it presented a fantastic opportunity to build on previous experience by working together with partners from across many sectors – including the public, private, academic and voluntary sectors – to help protect businesses of all sizes from the threat of cybercrime. I feel it is also a unique and exciting opportunity for policing in general.
What are some of your ambitions for the Centre?
I am really excited to be leading such an innovative partnership in the fight against cybercrime. The increase in remote working has seen an increase in cyber attacks on businesses, which has further demonstrated the need for this partnership between policing, private sector and academia.
The threat is very real and can render a business inoperable as well as causing them significant financial and reputational damage. There is a huge amount of expertise and guidance in existence surrounding cyber security, but many smaller businesses can’t afford to access cyber security consultancy or services and are not aware that this guidance and support exists.
In my role as Director of the WMCRC, I am extremely passionate about reaching out and working with those small businesses who do not know that they need our help. The West Midlands’ vast region encompasses the UK’s second largest city, but also spans many rural geographical areas.
Farming and agricultural businesses might not be the first area you think of when it comes to a cyber attack, but the food network is a critical and complex network that utilises a diverse range of digital technologies. We know that securing farms poses some unique challenges, but as the majority of farms are family owned or run as small or micro businesses, we know we need to work with these businesses to help them become more cyber resilient.
In your opinion, what are the most important aspects for SMEs to adopt in the fight against cybercrime?
Sometimes, it’s the smallest actions that can have the biggest effect and this is no different when it comes to getting the basics right in cyber security. There are many small steps businesses can take to help protect themselves from the most common cyber threats, including:
Keeping systems and software up to date
Making your passwords as secure as possible
Ensuring you back up information and data
Regularly training your employees so they are clued up on how to be cyber secure and are able to spot suspicious activity
Striving to achieve Cyber Essentials certification – this is a great, low cost and flat fee solution to allow you to ascertain your current level of cyber security
What's been the biggest challenge for the Centre over the last year?
Zoom Meetings and Microsoft Teams calls, whether it’s a connectivity issue or noting how many times you say you’re on mute during a meeting! As a Police Officer, I am very used to having face to face conversations and engaging on a regular basis with partners, stakeholders, and local communities, so moving that to an online world has been an odd experience.
However, we have launched our Centre during the global pandemic. Since July, we have quickly adapted to the online calls and meetings to bring onboard a hugely skilled and experienced group of Board Members and Advisory Group Members, who are passionate about helping businesses of all sizes increase their cyber resilience, which is something I’m incredibly proud of.
You can find out more about the West Midlands Cyber Resilience Centre here.