MI5 boss reveals "astonishing" cyber attack secrets
Posted: 06/26/2012 12:00:00 AM EDT
Everyday the UK is subject to an “astonishing” number of cyber attacks, according to the head of Britain’s Security Service.
Jonathan Evans, the Director General of MI5, made his first public appearance in over two years to warn against the increasing threat of state-sponsored cyber attacks.
“Vulnerabilities in the internet are being exploited aggressively not just by criminals but also by states," Evans said. “The extent of what is going on is astonishing.”
The term ‘Cyber War’ is used to excess and many experts believe the concept is unlikely to become a reality. Major General Shaw, Commander at the MoD’s UK Cyber Policy and Plans Team, told a delegation earlier this year that, “the word ‘war’ has lost all its meaning; it’s now only relevant in political theory, not as an operational term.” There will not be a Cyber War where nation states fight each other on a digital battleground, but cyber warfare tactics can and will be used in all future conflicts.
In a previous article it was argued that the sort of cyber attacks we are seeing today mainly come under the low-level sort of IP theft we saw during the Cold War. However, Evans has made it clear that this type of digital espionage is not to be dismissed: it’s a serious crime and represents a significant threat to national security.
"What is at stake is not just our government secrets but also the safety and security of our infrastructure, the intellectual property that underpins our future prosperity and... commercially sensitive information,” he said during a speech at Mansion House.
The appearance of the MI5 chief coincides with the upcoming Olympic Games being held in London this Summer, an event which Evans said would present an attractive opportunity for would-be terrorists.
This is an issue that Francis Maude, the Minister for Cyber Security, addressed during a recent trip to Estonia.
“This year’s Olympics in the United Kingdom will not be immune to cyber attacks by those who would seek to disrupt the Games,” said Maude.
“We have rightly been preparing for sometime – a dedicated unit will help guard the London Olympics against cyber attack – we are determined to have a safe and secure Games.”
Thinking about physical attacks, the link between cyber crime and terrorism is stark.
“I’m not being melodramatic … but the reality is cyber threats will lead to lead to physical attacks,” said Robert Lentz, President of Cyber Security Strategies and former CISO for the U.S. DoD at the Cyber Defence and Network Security conference in London earlier this year.
This correlation is something Evans appears only too aware of. “We appear to be moving from a period of a deep and focused threat to one where the threat is less monolithic but wider,” Evans said. “A return to state-sponsored terrorism by Iran or its associates, such as Hezbollah, cannot be ruled out as pressure on the Iranian leadership increases.”
After Stuxnet, a virus thought to have been a collaboration between the U.S. and Israel, the next generation of cyber weapon was discovered last month which is thought to be 20x more sophisticated than anything ever released into ‘the wild’ before. Called the Flame, it is likely that the state-sponsored virus may have been designed to target Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.
At the time of the discovery, Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and co-founder of Kaspersky Lab, the firm that discovered the Flame, said:
“The risk of cyber warfare has been one of the most serious topics in the field of information security for several years now. Stuxnet and Duqu belonged to a single chain of attacks, which raised cyberwar-related concerns worldwide. The Flame malware looks to be another phase in this war, and it’s important to understand that such cyber weapons can easily be used against any country. Unlike with conventional warfare, the more developed countries are actually the most vulnerable in this case.”
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