Almost two thirds (65%) of senior decision-makers in the UK financial services sector warn that a lack of strong cybersecurity defences is a risk the country’s economic growth, accordingly to new data published by Microsoft UK.

This could also be placing the UK’sAIambitions at risk – approaching three quarters (73%) of financial leaders believe that the UK needs stronger cybersecurity defences if it wants to become an ‘AI superpower’.

While an encouraging 71% of financial services leaders say that cybersecurity is a business priority in their organisation – as compared to 55% of leaders across all UK sectors – this still indicates a concerning lack of emphasis being placed on data security in a sizeable minority of UK financial institutions. Indeed, the wider Microsoft report warns that just 13% of the country’s organisations across all sectors can be classified as ‘Resilient’ to cyberattacks.

The research, developed by Chris Brauer from Goldsmiths, University of London, in collaboration with Microsoft, benchmarks the state of cybersecurity within the UK’s businesses and public sector organisations. It is based on surveys of over 1,000 senior leaders, including 105 senior decisionmakers and senior cybersecurity professionals in the financial services sector.

Fighting fire with fire

The researchers found that organisations applying AI in cyber defence have twice the resilience to cyberattacks as those that are not. It also found the cost of a successful attack is 20% lower. If AI technologies were used widely and effectively in cybersecurity across the UK, the research estimates that it could reduce the annual cost of cyberattacks in the UK by £52 billion. This is down from the current £87 billion total cost to UK organisations.

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However, just 38% of financial services sector organisations are using AI to specifically strengthen cyber defences, according to the research. Whilst this is higher than the 27% of all UK organisations using AI in cyber defence, it indicates a significant opportunity for the sector to further boost its resilience to attack.

An ‘AI superpower’ must be a ‘cybersecurity superpower’

In response, the report identifies 5 opportunities for the UK to maintain the country’s ‘cybersecurity superpower’ status, a pre-requisite identified by the research to becoming an ‘AI superpower’:

  1. Support widespread adoption of AI in cybersecurity: Widespread facilitation of more rapid adoption of AI-enabled defences, while inspiring ever more creative cyber approaches among the nation’s security professionals.
  2. Target investment: Investment must be prioritised and precise, with organisations encouraged to focus on buy-and-build configurations or off-the-shelf solutions.
  3. Cultivate talent: The UK should use nationally incentivised skills programmes, on-the-job learning and public-private partnerships with academic institutions to better cultivate UK talent.
  4. Foster research and knowledge sharing: Continue to invest in public/private R&D partnerships while supporting entrepreneurs to innovate on AI’s frontier. Learnings from cyberattacks should form the basis of nationwide, cross-industry alliances for cybersecurity preparedness, turning threat awareness into readiness and, ultimately, mitigation.
  5. Support simple, safe adoption: Continueto work with business leaders across sectors—from healthcare to manufacturing, and from the military to finance — on simple, outcomes-based guidance, aligned to international standards, to encourage the safe and secure deployment of AI.

Commenting on this, Microsoft UK general manager for financial services, Theo Michalopoulos, said: “The financial services sector is crucial to the British economy, not only as one of our largest industries, but also for its contributions to the UK’s economic infrastructure, job market, trade balance and overall fiscal health. It is critical to UK growth that our financial sector is protected from cyberattacks and we know this is a core priority for our customers. 

“The research shows many reasons for financial institutions to integrate AI as part of their regular cyber defences, making sure the industry is protected against future threats and able to defend itself accordingly. This will ensure the sector has its best foot forward when it comes to cyber defence and encourage continued growth and success.”