January 8, 2013 11:59 pm

Military prone to cyber attack, say MPs

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The UK armed forces would be “fatally compromised” in the event of a cyber attack due to its reliance on information technology, MPs have warned.

The defence committee criticised the government for “complacency” in the face of the growing threat from cyber attacks, in a report released on Wednesday.

“The cyber threat is, like some other emerging threats, one which has the capacity to evolve with almost unimaginable speed and with serious consequences for the nation’s security,” the MPs wrote.

James Arbuthnot, who chairs the committee, urged the government to reveal what contingency plans it had in place for a sustained cyber attack.

“If it has none, it should say so – and urgently create some,” Mr Arbuthnot said.

MPs also criticised the government’s reliance on “off-the-shelf” technology supplied by private contractors, which experts suggested could be easier to compromise than bespoke technology.

Cyber attacks on companies have become increasingly common, and costly. The head of MI5 revealed last year that a London-listed company had lost about £800m due to cyber attacks.

With both private companies and the military competing for experts in cyber security, MPs called for greater pooling of expertise between the two. The military is incapable of responding to a nationwide cyber attack on its own, according to security experts.

Neil Fisher, vice-president of global security solutions at Unisys, an IT group, said: “You will not be calling on the military to repair your servers.”

While cyber attacks – such as the Stuxnet worm that attacked an Iranian nuclear station in 2010 – have become increasingly sophisticated, GCHQ, the government’s intelligence listening post, estimates that four-fifths of successful cyber attacks in the UK could be thwarted by basic precautions, such as renewing antivirus software.

Jim Murphy MP, shadow defence secretary, said the vulnerabilities exposed by the report must be tackled urgently. “Policy progress is falling behind the pace of the threat our armed forces face,” he added.

Andrew Murrison, defence minister, denied that the government was complacent: “The Ministry of Defence 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.”

Additional reporting Kiran Stacey

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