Politicians and industry experts discuss how to fortify our digital networksby Prospect Team / February 27, 2020 / Leave a comment
Defending the cyber domain is one of the great security challenges of the 21st century. The rise of the networked world has brought benefits but also dangers. These range from minor irritations affecting personal computers to large-scale attacks on business and even geopolitical threats, with rogue actors targeting power grids, weapons systems and democratic elections.
It is an issue growing in prominence, particularly since Boris Johnson’s controversial decision to allow Chinese giant Huawei a continued role in UK telecoms infrastructure. So what precisely does the cyber threat look like and how is the UK protecting itself? Prospect convened a roundtable in Westminster to discuss these questions. In attendance were politicians, industry figures and defence chiefs including Admiral Alan West and Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones. In the chair was Prospect deputy editor Steve Bloomfield.
All attendees agreed on the seriousness of the problem. Alex Towers from BT said when you consider the full spectrum, including, “scammers, phishing attacks” and more, “we have something like 4,000 attacks on the BT network every day,” showing the need for vigilance. Hostile actors are at work “all the time, and not just malign state actors, but all sorts of organised crime and much less organised crime.”
When critical national infrastructure is hacked there can be very real-world effects. For Keith Mayes, professor of information security at Royal Holloway, the concern is where digital and traditional infrastructure meet. “The big thing that worries me most is what we call the cyber-physical systems, the crossover between IT and operational technology.” For example “in a nuclear power station, we’ve got controllers, we’ve got sensors… and it used to be they were isolated from the internet. But for efficiency optimisation, it seems to be that we’re on this unstoppable train to connect everything together.”
Alarmingly, West, former chief of the naval staff, suggested there was lack of awareness about the threat posed by this increased connectivity, even at the top. He had seen proposals in the past for connecting the systems for our nuclear deterrent to other networks,” which increases the risk of outside attack. “It is almost inconceivable to me that anyone could think of that even for a second,” he continued: “The only way you can be absolutely certain of not being ‘got’ is if there’s an ‘air gap’”—if the system is not connected to other digital networks in…