We're in for a lot more of them over the coming years—and not even government departments are safeby Alex Dean / July 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
The hackers are on the offensive. The election in the United States, the NHS, banks, businesses, even parliament itself have fallen victim to cyber-attacks over recent months. Cyber security has rapidly gone from a fringe anxiety to an all-pervasive mainstream worry. This in mind, I spoke to David Omand, former director of the UK’s surveillance agency GCHQ, who has been involved with worrying about this issue for a good deal longer than most. He explained just how grave a threat hackers pose to Britain.
“Cyber-attacks have risen up to the top rank of worry that any national security council has to think about. They are the new normal,” he said in an exclusive interview. Worse, “over the next five years, we’re in for much more of this,” he told me. There is “quite a lot of work to be done” even, startlingly, before government departments are secure from malignant actors online.
“The availability of the kind of tools that mid-level criminal organisations can use has increased. So inevitably there are going to be more attempts by them. I think that’s pretty clear.” The public quite simply has a “lack of awareness of the threat.”
But crucially, countries face threats not just from such criminal gangs but also from nation states. The latter pose a particular danger: they are “very difficult to stop, because they’re very good at it.” Pressed on the question of whether Britain specifically is likely to be targeted by a cyber-attack from a nation state in the coming years, Omand was hesitant to be drawn, but did concede that “both the Russians and Chinese have shown themselves to be determined”—an sobering comment for those tasked with keeping Britain safe.
“The public has a lack of awareness about the threat”
Omand suggested that cyber-wars could in the most extreme circumstances turn into wars plain and simple, suggesting that we could respond to future attacks on critical infrastructure with conventional weapons: “If someone was doing serious life-threatening damage and there wasn’t any other way of stopping them,” he said, speaking slowly, “then they ought to think seriously about the kind of capabilities the UK could bring to bear.” This is, he argued, “an extension of the right of self-defence argument.”
His comments echo controversial remarks made by Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary,…