Home Secretary Calls Cyber Warfare A ‘Growing Threat’

Cyber warfare is a “growing threat” to Britain, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said on Monday ahead of the unveiling of a national security document, planned for later in the day.

The document has been formulated by the National Security Council, created by David Cameron upon taking power in May. In part it identifies 16 threats to the UK, with the “Tier 1”, or most serious, threats including attacks on British cyberspace. Other Tier 1 threats include acts of international terrorism, a major accident or a natural hazard such as a flu pandemic.

Top-level threats

The document is expected to set out significant cuts to the UK’s more traditional forms of defence, including the armed forces.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme May said that the document wasn’t intended to indicate that cyber warfare was an “equal threat” to international terrorism, stating that the threats within Tier 1 were listed “in no particular order”.

The Home Secretary said cyber warfare is a “new and growing threat” and said more than half of the cyber attacks ever identified occurred last year.

“It’s a threat to government, it’s a threat to businesses and indeed to personal security,” May told Radio 4. “We have identified this as a new and growing threat in the UK and you just have to look at the figures – in fact, 51 percent of the malicious software threats that have ever been identified were in 2009.”

Governments under attack

The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), a government agency which advises the creative industries on copyright, has only today been hit by the ongoing Operation Payback denial of service campaign run by file-sharing activists. The group denies charges of vandalism, and claims to be an organised protest against “the reign of extreme pro-copyright” organisations. The weekend has also seen attacks against copyprotected.com, a site run by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Gene Simmons, bass player in 70s rock band Kiss.

Emphasising the growing importance of cyber-warfare on governments’ agendas, a former Secretary of US Homeland Security and a security adviser to three US presidents, Michael Chertoff, gave an address at the RSA security conference in London earlier this month. Cyber-warfare was high on the list of topics at the event, with Chertoff joining long-time White House advisor Richard Clarke and security guru Bruce Schneier in presenting keynote sessions at the RSA conference.

Ian Lobban, director of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), also warned last week that the UK is facing ‘real and credible’ threats from cyber attacks on its critical infrastructure. “Cyberspace is contested every day, every hour, every minute, every second,” he said. The Internet “lowers the bar for entry to the espionage game”.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner recently highlighted the shocking lack of resources at the cybercrime unit of the Metropolitan Police Service in an article for the Sunday Telegraph. “We also know that, at any time, the Police Service is only actively targeting 11 percent of the 6,000 organised crime groups in England and Wales,” the police commissioner wrote.

Matthew Broersma

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  • Dr. Paul Judge, Chief Research Officer and VP Cloud Services at Barracuda Networks comments:

    “We applaud the UK Government's efforts to update and focus their defenses against cybercrime and cyber attacks. The discovery of Stuxnet has served as a reminder to the global community of the reality of focused cyber attacks. To overcome these threats, industry and government must work together to develop the best tools and the best policy. One without the other only provides temporary symptom relief and not a true long-term treatment for the problem.

    “Cybercriminals have already established cross-border alliances and trading markets to carry out and monetise their attacks. Governments must do the same in order to effectively pursue this criminals. Even in the midst of budget cuts, governments must also invest in improving the technical skill sets within law enforcement agencies in order to prevent and pursue these criminals in this electronic war field. At Barracuda Labs, we have the responsibility of protecting companies in dozens of countries including the UK. We have seen the scale of email and web threats that face the citizens of the UK. We look forward to continuing to work with our customers, partners, and colleagues in the UK to further improve the state of Internet safety and security.”

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