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Spy agency boss warns of cyber threat

by Sarah Griffiths on 13 October 2010, 14:18

Tags: UK Government

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I spy

Britain is facing a ‘real and credible' threat from cyber attacks from unfriendly countries and crooks, with government computers targeted over 1,000 every month, the director of GCHQ warned.

Iain Lobban is not taking the continuing threats lightly and warned they could damage the country's economic future and said forebodingly that some nations are using such threats to put pressure on others, Reuters reported.

"Cyberspace is contested every day, every hour, every minute, every second," he warned in a rare appearance, adding that the internet lowers "the bar for entry to the espionage game."

He reportedly believes that as the net grows, there is more risk of disruption to Britain's key infrastructure like power stations and financial systems, which if compromised could cause havoc.

GCHQ, which gathers intelligence, eavesdrops and breaks codes, reportedly said: "the threat is a real and credible one."

While heads of states and security pros have been bleating about cyber threats for ages, the problem has been thrust into the limelight of late when experts suggested a Stuxnet worm that attacks industrial systems, could have been created by a state to target Iran's controversial nuclear operation.

Although he did not give any specific details, Lobban is said to have told the Institute for Strategic Studies: "It is true we have seen the use of cyber techniques by one nation on another to bring diplomatic or economic pressure to bear."

Meanwhile, a recent report from Parliament reportedly said that GCHQ has hinted that Russia and China pose the biggest cyber threat to Britain.

And the US doesn't want to take any chances either as it is believed to be setting up a Cyber Command to guard defence networks and launch its own cyber attacks, yet Lobban has reportedly said that there should be ‘proper norms of behaviour for responsible states in cyber space' to avoid any extra problems.

Lobban also reportedly admitted that worms are causing grief to the government's systems which cop 20,000 malicious emails every month of which some 1,000 are thought to be deliberately targeted. Perhaps confirming many people's fears, he warned that such attacks present the government with a major challenge of keeping individuals' data safe.

He reportedly added that the ‘disturbing' hike in online crime is costing the economy billions of pounds and there has been a ‘massive' amount of poaching of intellectual property too.

As details of the dreaded Treasury Spending Review are due out next week, as well as the government's Strategic Defence and Security Review, Lobban seems to be concerned that certain areas will be cut that could have disastrous effects on others.

"Just because I, as a national security official, am giving a speech about cyber, I don't want you to take away the impression that it is solely a national security or defence issue. It goes to the heart of the our economic well-being and national interest," he reportedly added.



HEXUS Forums :: 3 Comments

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Die Hard 4.0 on the TV one night, then this within a couple of days? ;)
Iain Lobban@GCHQ
… the internet lowers "the bar for entry to the espionage game.

Iain Lobban@GCHQ
… the ‘disturbing' hike in online crime is costing the economy billions of pounds and there has been a ‘massive' amount of poaching of intellectual property too.

Interesting that the head of GCHQ, should mention internet piracy, and more serous (and life threatening) internet crime in the same speech, without mentioning how the inverse correlation between the two. Specifically, the measures in the recent digital economy bill to crack down on internet piracy will make life easer for more serous cyber criminals, hackers and terrorists.

The new disconnection measures Digital economy bill might in the future see a huge number of internet users disconnected. If this happens then we are likely to see lots of people start using encrypted internet connections, and autonomous proxy systems such as Tor for everyday surfing. At the moment very few people use such methods, and even fewer use them correctly.

If anonymous and encrypted surfing becomes the norm, then the boys and girls at GCHQ will have two problems. Firstly, there will be far more encrypted traffic about, and most of it will not be from terrorists or the like, so GCHQ will not be able identify terrorists from the fact that they are encrypting their internet. In effect the terrorists will be able to hide in crowds of normal users who just want to download some movies without paying for them.

Secondly, knowledge on how to set-up an encrypted internet connection will become a lot more widespread. Suppose we have a newly radicalised teenager who wants to encrypt his internet so that he can email and chat with his fellow radicals without getting snooped on by MI5. At the moment information on how to set up autonomous surfing is rare and hard to come by. In five years time it might be frequently discussed on Hexus forums, and as much of the common knowledge of tech communities, as iPhone jailbreaking is now.
chrestomanci
Interesting that the head of GCHQ, should mention internet piracy, and more serous (and life threatening) internet crime in the same speech, without mentioning how the inverse correlation between the two. Specifically, the measures in the recent digital economy bill to crack down on internet piracy will make life easer for more serous cyber criminals, hackers and terrorists.

The new disconnection measures Digital economy bill might in the future see a huge number of internet users disconnected. If this happens then we are likely to see lots of people start using encrypted internet connections, and autonomous proxy systems such as Tor for everyday surfing. At the moment very few people use such methods, and even fewer use them correctly.

If anonymous and encrypted surfing becomes the norm, then the boys and girls at GCHQ will have two problems. Firstly, there will be far more encrypted traffic about, and most of it will not be from terrorists or the like, so GCHQ will not be able identify terrorists from the fact that they are encrypting their internet. In effect the terrorists will be able to hide in crowds of normal users who just want to download some movies without paying for them.

Secondly, knowledge on how to set-up an encrypted internet connection will become a lot more widespread. Suppose we have a newly radicalised teenager who wants to encrypt his internet so that he can email and chat with his fellow radicals without getting snooped on by MI5. At the moment information on how to set up autonomous surfing is rare and hard to come by. In five years time it might be frequently discussed on Hexus forums, and as much of the common knowledge of tech communities, as iPhone jailbreaking is now.

Very good point… There is a sense of an inability for MP's, policy makers, government officials and lobbyist to think critically about the effects of that which they want to implement. All they are thinking about is there respective vested interests and how any such act or policy could possibly benefit them regardless of its side effects/draw backs, which is really sad.

They basically think and do everything with blinkers on, blind to problems they are causing for themselves. Never bother to think about the bigger picture, or perhaps the causes of the problem rather than just the problem itself.

As you said I think Governments are more of a threat to their own economy and cyber security than any hacker is. They keep shooting themselves in the foot and wondering why the hell there is so much blood around them.