Osborne raises spectre of Isis cyber attacks on UK

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In August, a Birmingham-born hacker for Isis named Junaid Hussain was believed killed by a US drone strike in Syria.

Hussain had travelled to Syria and become one of the leaders of the Islamist group’s “cyber-caliphate”. The group is adept at using social media for propaganda purposes; its main hacking feat so far was to briefly penetrate the Twitter and YouTube accounts of US Central Command.

 

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On Tuesday, in a speech at GCHQ, the UK’s eavesdropping agency, George Osborne, chancellor, said Isis’s ambitions went far further, suggesting the terror group might try cyber attacks on air traffic control or hospitals.

“Isil are already using the internet for hideous propaganda purposes,” he said. “They have not been able to use it to kill people yet by attacking our infrastructure through cyber attack. They do not yet have that capability. But we know they want it, and are doing their best to build it.”

Mr Osborne said the threat of radicalised Isis hackers wreaking havoc across western nations, breaking into critical power and security systems from a laptop, meant that intelligence officers needed to step up their attacks against terrorists in cyberspace.

“We reserve the right to respond to a cyber attack in any way that we choose,” said Mr Osborne.

In his speech, Mr Osborne set out plans to increase funding on UK cyber security to £1.9bn by 2020 and to open a National Cyber Centre and Institute for Coding.

Experts said it was unclear what cyber-weapons the UK has at its disposal; such information is secret.

Graham Cluley, an independent security analyst, said that whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread internet surveillance by GCHQ and the US National Security Agency suggested a high degree of sophistication among the two nations’ digital spies.

Yet, he suggested officials could also use the same software as criminal hackers, who were buying tool kits online for a few pounds that allowed them to launch attacks.

This could include simple methods, such as launching Distributed Denial of Services attacks — whereby an organisation’s site is swamped with internet traffic to crash it — or creating malware, computer viruses that allow hackers to take over a target’s computer from afar.

“If they were able to identify what computers are launching an attack, [UK authorities] might be able to take out those computers in this way,” said Mr Cluley.

Nation states have shown an ability to create more sophisticated tools. Stuxnet, a computer “worm”, was designed to wriggle into Iranian nuclear facilities, with the aim of making uranium centrifuges spin out of control. Security analysts subsequently said it was probably the creation of US and Israeli security agencies and set the Iranian nuclear programme back by years.

Though Mr Osborne mentioned the UK developing an offensive cyber attack capability, analysts emphasised that the government needed to focus on online defences.

GCHQ works closely with businesses with operations that are integral to the UK’s national infrastructure — such as power plant operators — through the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, which acts as a conduit for MI5 and GCHQ to monitor sensitive networks.

“Clearly, there is a big job to do defending government, but also areas such as the health service and national infrastructure, while also defending the economy and individuals,” said Richard Horne, a cyber security partner at PwC, the consultancy. “There is a huge challenge defending society as a whole.”

Source: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f1672a60-8d48-11e5-a549-b89a1dfede9b.html#axzz3s4KuJ9kK

 

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