Public must be warned about cyber threat 'like AIDS campaign in the 80s'
Published 09/01/2013 | 11:00
EVERYBODY must be warned their computers are at risk of criminal attacks in a mass public awareness campaign like the one about AIDS in the 1980s, a former top British official has said.
Major General Jonathan Shaw, a former head of cyber security at the Ministry of Defence, said people must be told to improve their computer security because the UK is "extremely vulnerable" to attack by criminals and terrorists.
He said there is a "special responsibility" on all citizens to improve their "cyber hygiene" as private computers are the easiest to attack.
Speaking on BBC Radio Four's Today programme, Major General Shaw said the Government must "launch a cyber hygiene campaign like they did with the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s".
He said invididuals are "on the front line" and must be warned their computers are at risk, as the Government is "not in charge of cyber space".
His comments come after MPs warned that the armed forces could be “fatally compromised” by cyber attacks because the Government has failed to do enough to protect against hi-tech warfare.
The military is now so dependent on computers and information technology that a sustained cyber attack could render weapons and even entire combat units useless, a report by the Commons defence committee concluded.
Enemies could target radar and satellites, communication networks, command and control systems or simply render aircraft and ships “dysfunctional”.
The committee said the threat is evolving at an “almost unimaginable speed” and questioned the Government’s ability to deal with such a scenario.
It said it was unclear whether contingency plans were even in place and called on ministers to take a more hands-on approach.
Last year, Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5, said an "astonishing" level of cyber attacks from enemy states and criminals was threatening government secrets and businesses.
Iain Lobban, director of GCHQ, said the cyber threat was "one of the biggest challenges we face today".
The defence committee report concluded: “The armed forces now so dependent on information and communications technology, should such systems suffer a sustained cyber attack, their ability to operate could be fatally compromised," the committee said.
It said there was an “inevitable inadequacy of the measures available to protect against a constantly changing and evolving threat” and that it was not enough for armed forces just to “do their best” to prevent an effective attack.
The extent of information and communication technology in weapons, satellite and intelligence systems means “many more points of vulnerability”.
Experts told the MPs an enemy could seek to target radar or satellites to create a "deceptive picture" in the military command structure while the increased use of unmanned drones and battlefield robots potentially added to the vulnerability.
The committee accused ministers of "complacency" over the failure to develop rules of engagement covering the military response to a cyber attack on the UK.
"Events in cyberspace happen at great speed. There will not be time, in the midst of a major international incident, to develop doctrine, rules of engagement or internationally-accepted norms of behaviour," it said.
"There is clearly still much work to be done on determining what type or extent of cyber attack would warrant a military response."
James Arbuthnot, committee chairman, said: “"It is our view that cyber security is a sufficiently urgent, significant and complex activity to warrant increased ministerial attention.
"The Government needs to put in place – as it has not yet done – mechanisms, people, education, skills, thinking and policies which take into account both the opportunities and the vulnerabilities which cyberspace presents."
Dr Andrew Murrison, minister for international security strategy, said: "Far from being complacent, the MOD takes the protection of our systems extremely seriously and has a range of contingency plans in place to defend against increasingly sophisticated attacks although, for reasons of national security, we would not discuss these in detail."
Rowena Mason and Tom Whitehead, Telegraph.co.uk