The UK government is to invest £2 million a year in a new cybersecurity centre that will offer advice to overseas countries on how to defend themselves from online threats.

The “Centre for Global Cyber-Security Capacity Building” will draw on a network of eight UK universities conducting research into cybersecurity. It is designed to improve international co-ordination, increase access to expertise, and promote good governance online.

Speaking at the Budapest Conference on Cyberspace today, foreign secretary William Hague said the centre will draw together leading thinking and initiatives of the private sector, governments and international organisations from across the world.

“Some countries lack the infrastructure and expertise to police their cyberspace and we need to do more to increase the capabilities of others,” he said.

“This practical initiative will help close the gap between supply and demand for capacity building and to ensure we make better use of the skills and resources available internationally.”

Hague warned that it has “never been easier to become a cybercriminal than it is today”, claiming that is now possible to buy off-the-shelf malicious software designed to steal bank details for as little as £3,000.

Meanwhile, nations that do not have the defences or the resources to counter state-sponsored cyber attack could find themselves being held to ransom by hostile states.

“A great deal can be achieved through relatively simple measures such as improved crisis communications, greater cooperation between national computer emergency response teams and collaboration on tackling e-crime and responding to cyber attacks,” said Hague.

He added that it is only by ensuring the security of others that we can protect our own networks and our ability to log-on safely.

The plans were welcomed by Martin Sutherland, managing director of technology consulting firm BAE Systems Detica, which delivers information intelligence solutions to government and commercial customers.

“As cyberspace has no international borders, today's announcement is encouraging as it fosters international collaboration to combat the cyber problem. The institute should also serve to safeguard the UK,” he said.

“Measures such as these also strengthen the UK cyber industry which, going forwards, should be seen as a valuable export opportunity.”

Last month, the UK’s first academic research institute to investigate the “science of cybersecurity” was launched with the backing of UK spying centre GCHQ.

The "virtual" institute, which is funded by a £3.8 million government grant, is part of a cross-government commitment towards increasing the nation’s academic capability in all fields of cybersecurity.

GCHA also recently announced plans to provide cyberattack advice to the UK’s key organisations, under a new ‘Cyber Security for Business’ programme.