In the last three months, the UK has been hit with a flurry of cyberattacks. Official figures demonstrate that the nation has been hit by 188 high-level cyberattacks. The alarming figures have triggered British political parties to ask GCHQ – the UK’s version of the NSA – for help in dealing with the ongoing wave of cybercrime. No doubt the powers that be are fearful of similar attacks (and leaks) to those suffered in the US last year.
According to Ciaran Martin, the chief of cybersecurity at GCHQ, Britain is being hit by dozens of attacks every single week. He says that many of those attacks originate from China and Russia. Martin believes that those attacks are state-sponsored, because they show a high level of technical prowess. Amongst other things, he believes the intent is to steal defense and foreign policy secrets.
Cyber Warfare Epidemic
In addition, Chancellor Philip Hammond has claimed that GCHQ blocked 34,550 potential attacks on British targets in the last six months. That is around 200 a day, and clearly demonstrates that cybercrime in the UK (and around the world) is at epidemic levels. According to the chief of cybersecurity, no political party has come forward to ask for help formally. However, his recent comments demonstrate that there is concern within Britain’s political parties of similar penetrations to those that affected the DNC:
“There is talk about it and we are ready to work [with them]. We have had some approaches and we would expect to be offering seminars and that sort of thing for political parties in the future. Have not done it yet. But we would expect to. But only if they asked.”
Martin says that the DNC hack was not unusual and that the West has seen a sharp rise in cyberattacks aimed at political infrastructure over the last few years. Talking on Tuesday at the grand opening of GCHQ’s new National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Martin said that there was concern over protecting the democratic process everywhere. With elections underway this year in France, Holland, and Germany, he believes that all locations are under similar levels of stress.
National Cyber Security Centre
On Tuesday, the Queen of England was at the opening of the new National Cyber Security Centre. At the event, the Queen was given an overview of the problems that her kingdom is facing. She was told that the new center for cybersecurity excellence is only one facet of a £1.9 billion ($2.3 billion) five-year strategy. The head of the NSCS told Queen Elizabeth that he intended to “make the UK the hardest target.”
Once finished with showing the Queen around the new center, Martin explained details about the digital assault that political targets have been exposed to in recent months:
“In the case of government departments, [it is] getting into the system to extract information on UK government policy on anything from energy to diplomacy to information on a particular sector.
Over the last two years there has been a step change in Russian aggression in cyberspace. Part of that step change has been a series of attacks on political institutions, political parties, parliamentary organisations and that’s all very well evidenced by our international partners and widely accepted.”
Government Working with the Private Sector
What is interesting, is that NCSC will be receiving subsidies from the UK’s private sector. That funding will allow 200 private sector employees to join the NCSC initiative on cybersecurity, to help shore up Britain’s infrastructure. Two weeks ago, Trump’s administration said that a closer relationship between the government and the private sector was going to be central to fixing the US’ cybersecurity woes.
If that is the case, could other UK legislative decisions – like the Snooper’s Charter – end up being forced on the US as well? In the UK, the Investigatory Powers Act (Snooper’s Charter) compels internet service providers to retain all UK residents’ web browsing histories and metadata for a year. In addition, section 217 of the law says that ISPs, telecom firms, and other communications providers, must inform the government in advance of any new products and services being introduced, so that the government can demand “technical” changes to software and systems.
Will the US Get Similar Legislation?
The US’ newly appointed attorney general, senator Jeff Sessions, is known to be in favor of backdoors. As such, it doesn’t seem unlikely that the US may have legislation similar to the Snooper’s Charter headed for its shores. What is definite, is that the two nations see eye to eye on cybersecurity. UK Chancellor Philip Hammond, mirrors the Trump administration’s opinion that,
“Government cannot protect business and the general public from the risks of cyber-attack on its own. It has to be a team effort. It is only in this way that we can stay one step ahead of the scale and pace of the threat that we face.”
With that in mind, could what we are seeing in the UK be a model that is followed by the Trump administration?
Opinions are the writer’s own.
Title image credit: Gil C/Shutterstock.com
Image credit: dizain/Shutterstock.com
Image credit: photo_oles/Shutterstock.com
Image credit: chrisdorney/Shutterstock.com