Cyber Defence Resource Centre

Military will be left defunct following cyber attack, says defence committee report

Contributor:  Andrew Elwell
Posted:  01/09/2013  12:00:00 AM EST
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Tags:   cyber

The military’s reliance on computers is now so great that a sustained cyber attack from enemy actors could deal a fatal blow to much of its weapons and technology. Entire combat units could be rendered useless. That’s the conclusion of a report by the Commons defence committee.

“The evidence we received leaves us concerned that with the armed forces now so dependent on information and communications technology, should such systems suffer a sustained cyber-attack, their ability to operate could be fatally compromised,” the report said.

James Arbuthnot, the defence committee chairman, said in a statement that cybersecurity demands greater government attention: “It is our view that cybersecurity is a sufficiently urgent, significant and complex activity to warrant increased ministerial attention.”

Western governments have taken a robust approach to cyber concerns over recent years, saying that a digital breach of a nation’s computer systems will be treated in the same way as a physical attack would – that means a military response. However, the report appeals for clarity over this issue:

“There is clearly still much work to be done on determining what type or extent of cyber attack would warrant a military response…we recommend the government ensure that civil contingency plans identify the military resources that could be drawn upon in the event of a large-scale cyber attack.”

Backing the report’s warning about cyber vulnerability the World Economic Forum also revealed this week that the rapid spread of false information, or “digital wildfires”, is one of a series of newly emerging risks in its Global Risks 2013 report. Cyber threat was identified as one of the top five global risks over the next year.

Shortly after taking office, Cameron’s government implemented the National Cyber Security Programme in late 2010 and set aside £650 million, with the Ministry of Defence allocated £90 million (14%). Half the money went to improving core capabilities at GCHQ. Following conclusions from the report perhaps more weight should have been given to the military requirement. Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy thinks so, stating that the “policy progress is falling behind the pace of the threat our armed forces face.”

What more can be done to shore up the UK’s cyber defences? The report calls for, well, just… be done.

“The government needs to put in place — as it has not yet done — mechanisms, people, education, skills, thinking and policies which take it into both the opportunities, and the vulnerable, which cyber presents. It is time the government approached this subject with vigour.”

The Cyber Defence and Network Security conference, taking place at the end of January in London, UK, will be the place to find out exactly what is being done to counter the growing cyber threat. There is a strong military presence on the list of speakers scheduled for the event and we’ll be asking them what strategies can be put in place.

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Andrew Elwell Contributor: Andrew Elwell

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