Scale of cyber threats facing UK revealed

This month the new National Cyber Security Centre has officially been opened in London. Ciaran Martin, the organisation’s chief exec, has spoken out about the extent to which cyber attacks are putting the UK at risk of serious exploitation, according to the Sunday Times.

Martin said that 188 serious attacks against the nation’s IT resources have been made in the past quarter alone, meaning that each month there are a significant number of potential breaches which need to be detected, prevented and investigated.

He said that many of these attacks were being sponsored by other states as a kind of unofficial tool of digital espionage, with countries including Russia and China attempting to cause disruption by harnessing groups of hackers.

Different departments within the government are obviously seen as prime targets for such illicit activities, since successful attacks can give third parties access to a variety of valuable data sources which would not otherwise be available. Martin explained that this could include anything from policies relating to energy to information that is specific to the UK’s diplomatic presence around the world.

Some of the breaches which are being investigated by experts at the moment include incidents which mirror those carried out against former US presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, which resulted in her personal emails being leaked. Many see this as having had an adverse effect on her campaign and being instrumental in the eventual victory of Donald Trump at last November’s election.

The implication for the UK’s own national security and political landscape is similarly significant; Martin represents an organisation which is specifically intended to prevent other states from meddling in matters such as these, although this is not the NCSC’s only function.

Martin avoided any ambiguity when speaking about this matter, indicating that Russia in particular was ramping up its presence in the digital sphere and leveraging resources to assert itself as proactively as possible. He cited a number of attacks carried out in the past 24 months as being indicative of this, indicating that individual politicians and entire political parties were under threat.

Although the official opening of the NCSC has only just occurred, Chancellor Phillip Hammond spoke out about the positive impact it has already had in a piece he penned for the Sunday Telegraph over the weekend.

Hammond said that there are around 200 attacks against both the government and the public against which the NCSC has acted on a daily basis in the last half year, bringing the total to over 34,500 during this relatively short period. This shows that both minor and major attacks are increasingly common, impacting not just the political establishment but also normal businesses and residents across the UK.

He also argued that the improvements being made to the country’s broadband infrastructure, opening up superfast internet connectivity to millions more premises, would leave people open to cyber threats on a much grander scale.

In particular, he focused on the fact that an increasing number of devices and key infrastructural elements upon which millions rely from day to day now require a network connection to operate. This leaves them accessible to third parties via the internet, meaning that the potential for state sponsored disruption to be caused by hackers is far greater.

The government has once again reaffirmed its commitment to combating the threats to national security which exist in cyber space, with the opening of the NCSC intended to allay fears that not enough is being done. But there are still concerns about how much more damage might be done by breaches which go unchecked.