UK at risk of terrorist cyber attack, warns HMG

Britain and its people are likely to suffer widespread and devastating online attacks from hostile nations and organisations, according to the Government's all-new cyber security section of the National Security Strategy (which, in our opinion, is the most horrendously American-sounding name and as such desperately needs to be changed).

In addition to looking at ways to protect the public from identity theft and online fraud, the strategy also attempts to find ways to prevent the Government and businesses falling prey to attacks from hackers seeking secret data. Lord West, cyber security minister, said that "various state actors are very interested in cyber warfare. The terrorist aspect of this is the least, but it is developing. We know terrorists use the internet for radicalisation and things like that at the moment, but there is a fear they will move down that path."
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Crime of this type is said to cost the UK several billion pounds each year. Speaking on the subject of possible future cyber terrorism, Lord West said: "As their ability to use the web and the net grows, there will be more opportunity for these attacks." He also confirmed that Britain has, in the past, been the victim of state cyber attacks originating in Russia and China, adding that future attacks might target government departments, major businesses, the National Grid and financial markets.

Reporting on the story, the BBC reminds us that MI5 boss Jonathan Evans, in a 2007 speech, claimed that foreign powers "increasingly deploy sophisticated technical attacks, using the internet to penetrate computer networks" in an attempt to steal sensitive information including that related to the military. It also says that "terrorists who have used the internet for fundraising and propaganda are also believed to have the intent - if not yet the capability- to carry out their own cyber-attacks" and that "The range of potentially hostile cyber activity - from other states seeking to carry out espionage through criminal gangs to terrorists - is daunting."

Scary stuff, even if you're not of a particularly paranoid mindset, because the nation's vital infrastructure is highly dependent on computer networks nowadays. Any attack that succeeded in preventing the effective use of those networks could throw the country into chaos as supply chains, communications and health service organisation broke down.

You can't help but wonder if the fact that all the fuss the Government and state broadcaster are making of it comes so soon after the Government's embarrassing u-turn on so-called Big Brother databases, however, which were to be used to store details of telephone calls, SMS text messages and internet use. Jacqui Smith, prior to her resignation as Home Secretary due to the controversy surrounding her expenses claims, was forced to admit that the plans would not go ahead due to lack of support from the public who believe such measures would be intrusive and an infringement of their right to privacy.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human and civil rights organisation Liberty, said that she looked "forward to this U-turn being followed by limiting DNA retention, dumping ID cards and a less callous approach to privacy protection more generally." However, the Government still wishes to gather data on the public's confidential and private communications and plans to force all telephone and internet service providers to allocate each a customer an ID number which can then be linked to stored details. Providers have been reluctant, saying that the gathering and storing of such vast amounts of data is impractical.

While the threat of cyber crime and terrorism in undoubtedly a real one, at any other time moves to prevent it would in all likelihood have been veiled in extreme secrecy (which seems to be the Government's preferred operating procedure for just about everything these days until they're forced to open up to public scrutiny, nevermind in those cases related to national security). Is the Government - who have had to carry out a number of undignified climb-downs in the face of public anger recently - trying to frighten us into submission?

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