The Queen unveils new UK centre to combat cyber attacks

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Queen Elizabeth II departs with her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh after officially opening the new Cyber Crime Security centre in London - ANDY RAIN/EPA

Britain's defences against cyber attacks are more critical than ever as the vast majority of the population use online services, a senior security official has said.

In her first interview, Alison Whitney, deputy director for digital services at the new National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), highlighted its importance in an era when millions log on as part of their everyday lives.

She told the Press Association that the facility's official unveiling on Tuesday represents a "really significant" moment.

Queen Elizabeth II departs with her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh after officially opening the new Cyber Crime Security centre in London - Credit: ANDY RAIN/EPA

It will play a crucial role in efforts to make the UK the safest place to "live and do business online", she said.

The opening of the NCSC by the Queen comes amid mounting concern over the damage state hackers or terrorists could inflict on the country's economy and infrastructure.

It was revealed at the weekend that Britain's national security is threatened by dozens of cyber attacks every month, with assailants attempting to steal secrets from the heart of government.

Ms Whitney said cyber is in the "top tier" of national security threats.

She said: "There are terrorist groups that have an intent when it comes to cyber attacks, but they don't have the capability."

The scale of cyber crime has been laid bare by official figures showing there are an estimated two million computer misuse offences a year.

Director of Engagement and Advice, Alex Dewdney, gives Queen Elizabeth a demonstration of how an electricity supply could be subjected to cyber attack, at official opening of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in London - Credit: POOL

Ms Whitney said: "We do so much business online. Every citizen in the United Kingdom, pretty much, is accessing some service online, be it just things like internet shopping or more and more the kinds of service that we get from government.

"Making sure that we can do that securely is more and more important to everybody in the UK.

"That's really what the NCSC is here to do. We say and we really do mean that we are here to make the UK the safest place to do business and to live online."

The NCSC, part of intelligence agency GCHQ, will use the new central London office as its operational nerve centre.

Ms Whitney said it will give will give more "ease of accessibility" and help ensure greater collaboration.

She said: "I do think this is the ceremonial start of showing how we are doing things really, really differently.

"That accessibility, that joined up approach, doing so many things across the whole of the public sector, across industry, with citizens at large.

"I really think it is a step change in the way that we've done cyber security as a country. I think it will make a huge difference looking ahead to achieving that goal of making the UK the safest place to live and do business online."

She also issued a call for cyber security experts of the future, and girls in particular, to consider joining the sector.

A number of initiatives have been launched recently in a bid to head off the risk of a future skills shortage and inspire more women to join the fight against online crime. Only 10% of the global cyber workforce are female.

Ms Whitney said: "It would be great to see far more women taking part in cyber security. I've had a great time doing it. I really encourage as many girls and women to get involved in cyber security as possible."