What are the legal requirements for setting up a UK cybersecurity firm handling sensitive government data?

Cybersecurity matters now more than ever. As we delve more into the digital age, the protection of sensitive information becomes a primary concern for both individuals and organisations. Particularly, the cybersecurity firms which take the responsibility of securing sensitive government data need to adhere to a high standard of operations. In this light, we will look at the legal requirements necessary for setting up such a cyber security firm in the UK, touching on aspects of data processing, compliance measures, and guidelines to safeguard personal privacy.

Compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a comprehensive data protection law that came into effect in the European Union in 2018. Despite Brexit, the UK has incorporated it into its national law. Every cybersecurity firm in the UK must comply with this legislation to legally process and store data.

The GDPR lays out several principles that govern data processing. These include, among others, lawfulness, fairness, transparency, purpose limitation, data minimisation, and accuracy. Understanding these principles and implementing measures to ensure compliance is a necessary first step for any cybersecurity firm.

The GDPR also institutes the concept of 'lawful basis', requiring organisations to have a valid reason for processing personal data. For cybersecurity firms handling government data, this would typically be the necessity to process data for the performance of a contract or compliance with a legal obligation.

Adherence to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) Guidance

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) offers guidance for organisations in the UK to manage their cyber risk. It provides a set of measures that cybersecurity firms should take to protect the data they handle.

NCSC guidance is especially significant for cybersecurity firms handling sensitive government data. The guidance covers a broad range of topics, from basic security principles to intricate technical details. It includes recommendations for risk management, access control, system monitoring, and incident response.

To legally operate in the UK, cybersecurity firms should not only understand and implement these guidelines but also keep abreast of the latest updates and changes. It is crucial to regularly review and update cybersecurity measures to ensure they remain effective in the face of evolving threats.

Understanding the Computer Misuse Act (CMA)

The Computer Misuse Act (CMA) is another important piece of legislation that cybersecurity firms in the UK should be aware of. Enacted in 1990, the CMA criminalises unauthorised access to computer material. This includes hacking, spreading malicious software, and other related offences.

For cybersecurity firms, understanding the CMA is essential in two respects. Firstly, they must ensure that their activities remain within the bounds of the law. Secondly, they should be equipped to protect their clients' data from activities that the CMA identifies as criminal.

Navigating the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018)

In addition to GDPR, another law that has a significant impact on data security in the UK is the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018). This Act is designed to supplement the GDPR and tailor its application to fit the specific conditions of the UK.

The DPA 2018 stipulates that organisations processing personal data should do so in a way that respects the rights and freedoms of individuals. It also provides guidelines on how organisations should respond if a data breach occurs.

For cybersecurity firms, compliance with the DPA 2018 means processing data in a manner that respects personal privacy, implementing appropriate security measures, and having a well-prepared plan to respond to data breaches.

Meeting the Official Secrets Act (OSA) Requirements

The Official Secrets Act (OSA) represents another crucial legislation for cybersecurity firms handling sensitive government data. This legislation prohibits the disclosure of official documents and information without lawful authority.

Cybersecurity firms must familiarise themselves with the provisions of the OSA to ensure they comply with its requirements. This includes implementing strict access controls to limit who can access sensitive data and maintaining robust data security practices.

Setting up a cybersecurity firm in the UK that handles sensitive government data involves navigating a complex legal landscape. By understanding and meeting the requirements of key legislations like the GDPR, DPA 2018, CMA, and OSA, and adhering to the guidance provided by the NCSC, cybersecurity firms can ensure they operate within the bounds of the law while providing a high level of data security.

The Importance of Cyber Essentials Certification

One of the significant steps towards demonstrating compliance with the GDPR and the DPA 2018 is achieving Cyber Essentials certification. The Cyber Essentials scheme, backed by the UK government, defines a set of basic technical controls that organizations must implement to protect against cyber threats.

The Cyber Essentials certification process helps firms to illustrate their commitment to data security. It involves setting up firewalls, secure configuration, user access control, malware protection, and patch management. By complying with these best practices, companies can efficiently reduce the risk of a data breach, protect personal data, and maintain data privacy.

Furthermore, as a cybersecurity firm handling sensitive government data, achieving Cyber Essentials certification is often a requirement. Many government contracts require service providers to hold this certification, ensuring that they follow the best practices in data protection.

Intellectual Property and Confidentiality Agreements

Often overlooked, intellectual property (IP) rights and confidentiality agreements can play a crucial role in the protection of sensitive data. In the cybersecurity industry, where innovations and proprietary technology are prevalent, it is necessary to understand and respect IP rights.

Cybersecurity firms should ensure that they have the necessary permissions to use any third-party software or technology. Unauthorized access or usage of software could infringe upon IP rights and result in legal complications.

Moreover, cybersecurity firms often handle confidential information. They should have robust confidentiality agreements in place with their staff and subcontractors. These agreements should clearly define what constitutes confidential information, the obligations of the parties, and consequences of a breach.


Setting up a UK cybersecurity firm handling sensitive government data is undeniably a complex process. It involves a thorough understanding of various legal requirements, including those stipulated by the GDPR, DPA 2018, CMA, and OSA. It requires a firm commitment to data protection and data privacy, evidenced through measures like achieving Cyber Essentials certification and respecting intellectual property rights.

However, given the increasing reliance on digital platforms and the corresponding rise in cyber threats, the role of cybersecurity firms is becoming more crucial than ever. By adhering to the required legislation and implementing best practices, these firms can offer an indispensable service, helping to safeguard the nation's sensitive data against unauthorized access and breaches.

Remember, at the centre of all these legal and operational requirements is the ultimate goal: to protect and uphold the trust that clients, particularly government entities, place in cybersecurity firms. In an era where data is often considered the new oil, this trust is invaluable.

This free guide should serve as a starting point for anyone considering setting up a cybersecurity firm. However, seeking professional advice from a law firm specialising in cybersecurity regulations is always recommended to navigate this intricate legal landscape effectively.