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Britain Launches Cyber Security Inquiry

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

After Russian hacking of US election, the UK launches a national security inquiry into cyber defences

The UK has announced an inquiry into cyber security in the aftermath of the alleged hacking of the US election and other incidents by the Russians.

The inquiry will be conducted by the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, and cites the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review, which identified cyber threats as a major security challenge facing the UK.

The UK has already pledged to maintain robust cyber defences. Indeed, the Government said last year it would develop cyberattack capabilities so it could strike back if struck by a foreign adversary.

Keyboard Illustration "Cyber Attack" © Ben Chams - FotoliaNational Security Inquiry

The government also pledged to invest £1.9 billion to bolster the UK’s cybersecurity defences, but there is little doubt that alarm bells are ringing about recent cyber incidents that have been widely attributed to Russia.

And it seems that the UK has some way to go after the National Audit Office (NAO) last year published a damning report about the disarray of current government information security efforts.

The British government has already said it will treat a cyber attack on the UK as seriously as a conventional attack, and the inquiry is seeking more information about the types and sources of cyber threats currently faced by the UK.

It also wants to probe the “effectiveness and coherence of the strategic lead provided by the National Security Council, Departments, agencies, and the National Cyber Security Centre.”

Another area it will tackle is what learning points can be drawn from the first Cyber Security Strategy, and whether the UK has committed sufficient human, financial and technical resources to address the challenge.

It will also investigate the development of offensive cyber capabilities and under what conditions they would be used.

Another area to be probed is how the UK Government can work with the private sector to build cyber resilience and cyber skills, and the balance of responsibilities between the Government and private sector in protecting critical national infrastructure.

Other inquiry areas focus on the appropriate role for Government in regulating and legislating in relation to cyber both nationally and internationally, and how the how the UK can co-operate with allies and partners on the development of capabilities, standard setting and intelligence sharing.

“The internet has changed our daily lives almost beyond recognition from the way we communicate, to the way we trade and the way Government provides services to citizens,” said the chair of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Margaret Beckett MP,

Nation State Hackers

“However, while the digital revolution has opened up a whole host of opportunities, it has also created new vulnerabilities,” she added. “The national security implications of the leap to cyber are a matter of increasing concern.”

“Attention has recently focused on the potential exploitation of the cyber domain by other states and associated actors for political purposes, but this is just one source of threat that the Government must address through its recently launched five-year strategy,” she concluded.

This last point hints at the concern felt in the West about Russian cyber attacks against US institutions and interference in the US election process.

Indeed, it has blown up into a major diplomatic incident, after US President Barack Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and their families in retaliation for Russia’s cyber activities just after Christmas.

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