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Government Blocked 1,000 Serious Attacks Last Year

Eric is a veteran British tech journalist, currently editing ChannelBiz for NetMediaEurope. With expertise in security, the channel, and Britain's startup culture, through his TechBritannia initiative

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Defence secretary reveals that serious cyber-attacks against government systems are increasing rapidly

Britain is under constant attack from hackers and last year 1,000 potentially serious offensives were blocked, according to defence secretary Liam Fox.

The attacks were aimed to either penetrate or disrupt the government’s systems but Fox stopped short of naming where the sources lay. There are many countries that would like to access government secrets and numerous private firms and individuals that could be testing the systems for cracks, he said

Increasing Intensity Of Attacks

The levels of activity doubled between 2009 and 2010, Fox told the attendees at the London Chambers of Commerce Annual Defence Dinner at the Imperial War Museum. He disclosed that the battle is being waged “day in, day out”, echoing the comments of chancellor George Osborne who claimed that government officials receive 20,000 malicious emails every month.

“I and my senior colleagues are routinely alerted to incidents that could have had severe consequences if they’d not been stopped,” Fox said. “Our systems are targeted by criminals, foreign intelligence services and other malicious actors seeking to exploit our people, corrupt our systems and steal information.”

Fox moved on to say that success could not be achieved by government alone. “We now see weekly reports of cyber attacks against businesses, institutions and networks used by people going about their daily lives. The cost to the UK economy of cyber crime is estimated to be in the region of £27 billion a year and rising. These are attacks against the whole fabric of our society. When it comes to cyber security we must fight this battle together.”

He said that he wants to see a new type of partnership arise to help the UK government and businesses to survive this war in cyberspace.

“Fundamentally, we must recognise that cyberspace is now where most business is done,” he explained. “The recent Sony incident and the phishing attacks on the Google accounts of US officials have proven that a passive approach to cyber security is not enough.”

Aerospace And Defence Are Main Targets

A recent study from Detica, BAE Systems’ data services division, stated that the aerospace and defence sector is particularly exposed to cyber-crime and is losing £1.6 billion per year as a result of espionage and the theft of intellectual property.

“The reality is that increasingly we will worry about how seriously our suppliers take account of the cyber-security threat when we are placing our business, so I am encouraged by the recent joint initiative by A|D|S [the Aerospace, Defence and Security Trade Organisation] and Intellect [the trade association for the technology industry],” Fox said (pictured).

Peter Regent, director of online authentication at Gemalto, said: “Liam Fox is right, business and industry must re-evaluate security controls to reduce fraud and protect intellectual property. Introducing extra layers of security above usernames and passwords to governments, businesses and every individual Internet user will be a major step forward in cyber-crime prevention.

“Cyber criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated and no individual or corporation is immune to attack. It is time to move past good enough security to a security solution that actually meets the need and protects from the threat. By integrating multi layer authentication into security processes and infrastructures, we will be much better prepared for fraud prevention.”

Belt And Braces Advised

Gabriel Chaher, vice president of marketing at Quantum, believes that security and disaster recovery strategies must go hand in hand.

“While it is important to strive to defeat criminals with continued innovation in security technology, it is equally important to adopt a belt and braces approach with a robust backup and recovery strategy,” he said. “A tiered backup approach using disk at the primary level and encrypted tape at the backend will ensure that a copy of data is always available, providing a crucial safety net in the event of sabotage or corruption.”

Chaher points out that the offline nature of tape makes it immune to software bugs and attacks as well as providing a cost-effective way to restore data and resume normal business operations.

Fox completed his speech by pointing out the deal that must be made between government and industry.

“So, we will establish a new partnership with you – I will make sure that my department plays its part by being more open about the scale and nature of the threat, and by tackling barriers to international co-operation on cyber-security matters with our key allies. But I look to you to recognise the seriousness of this issue – and to work with me to improve our national security and our competitive advantage,” he said in closing.