New front in cyber war

The UK is investing in new research to protect vital services like power, gas and transport says Government minister.


Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude - overseeing the UK Government's assault on cybercrime

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude – overseeing the UK Government’s assault on cybercrime

Cabinet Office Secretary Francis Maude has announced a new research centre at Imperial College London – one of eleven universities receiving extra funds for cyber security research – will be dedicated to defending the Critical national Infrastructure – power supplies, fuels such as oil and gas, transport and telecommunications.  Researchers  headed by Professor Angela Sasse  are working on sophisticated ‘electronic eyes’ that can spot tiny changes in industrial control systems and hardware. The invention has a patent pending and is called Cortexica. It mirrors the action of the human eye transmitting information to the brain.


Cotexica - patent pending technology to guard infrastructure and crowded places

Patent pending technology to guard infrastructure and crowded places

In addition the UK is setting up a new national CERT or Cyber Emergency Response Team and has recruited Chris Gibson – formerly of Citigroup bank  Another key appointment is former BT Chief Executive Lord Livingstone, new in post as a Trade Minister and continuing the work he did with BT to realise the opportunities for export business in Britain’s home-grown cyber industries.

Presenting his end-of-year report, Francis Maude told security industry consultants at a briefing in Westminster that the first year of the National Cyber Security Strategy has been successful. “But it is a work in progress. There will never be a day when we dare to say it is done.”. Interviewed for PassWord with Peter Warren on Resonance 104.4FM, Francis Maude said the Internet of Things in power and fuel supplies and services such as street lighting  means that  the need to protect vital services from cyber attack is greater than ever. And he said the revelations by former US National Security Agency operative Edward Snowden about security services snooping on online communications had had an impact on the fight against cybercrime.

More funds

Maude paid tribute to his predecessor Baroness Pauline Neville Jones who had argued for increased funding to tackle cyber security against the Government’s austerity policy. He announced that he will top up the £650 million already allocated by a further £20 million in 205-16 and said this was a mark of the importance of this issue at a time when spending cuts are the norm. “Usually I am the Abominable No-man”  he remarked . But he conceded that the cyber security budget was not limitless and that the government would continue to rely on partnerships with business, and urged more companies to get involved with the national strategy by seconding their IT experts to the National Cyber Crime Unit, or encouraging employees to volunteer as Cyber Specials (part time plain-clothes police officers operating on the cyber beat rather than assisting with physical tasks such as crown control or tackling anti-social behaviour). the cyber Specials, first mooted in an interview with Peter warren in April 2013 with Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Tim Passmore, are now part of the national strategy. In Gloucestershire the PCC Martin Surl plans to raise the portion of council tax devoted to policing by 2% next year, specifically to fund the county’s fight against cybercrime.


Relationships between Government, the new National Cyber Crime Unit and companies are now formalised in the Cyber Information Sharing partnership (CISP). Illustrating one of its success stories, Adrian Nish of defence company Detica BAE Systems described how the Shylock malware detected in October by academic partners in the sharing system was targeted at e-banking and its impact was limited thanks to the CISP alert.


Two hundred thousand new students are being offered free courses in cyber security through the Open University, which operates online and through summer schools so that learners spend a minimum amount of time on campus and fit in their studies around a day-job. In addition Francis Maude praised the move by many SMEs to recruit apprentices for training as penetration testers and ethical hackers. He described his meeting with a teenager who had been ‘thrown out of school’ because he did not success academically, but who loved computers and is now apprenticed to a high-tech startup in Malvern, Worcestershire.” We need many more like him” said the Minister. ” And without the apprenticeship he may have gone to the dark side“.  The Government estimates show an extra six thousand cyber security professionals are needed in the UK.

Editorial comment

Future Intelligence Editor Peter warren, who chairs the Cyber Security Research Institute, comments:

“I am afraid that the end of year report for the Government on cyber crime will have to read ‘some progress but much room for improvement.’In 2001, the National High Tech Crime Unit was formed by rolling the Met Police’s Computer Crime Unit into a separate agency and some progress was made in cyber crime.

On April Fool’s Day 2006 the NHTCU became part of the highly secretive Serious and Organised Crime Agency provoking howls from the business community that it was being given no protection against cyber criminals. It was a charge repeated by the normally staid banking organisation Apacs, which went public about the need for protection all to no avail.

For a number of years nothing was done on cyber crime while the hunt for Al Quaeda leader Osama Bin Laden went on. Many conspiracy theorists in the industry conjectured that this was so intelligence agents could follow electronic fund transfers carried out by the cyber criminals for Bin Laden, who according to some sources were charging the former Al Quaeda leader 75% interest on the transactions as danger money.

Now Bin Laden is dead and we have come full circle and the Met Police’s National E-Crime Unit has been rolled into Soca to form the National Cyber Crime Unit – things might just be happening.”