Britain’s airports and nuclear power stations on cyber terror alert

In the last 24 [now 48] hours, as reported by The Telegraph yesterday, government security services have issued a number of alerts to this critical UK infrastructure, warning that cyber terrorists may have developed ways of hacking and overriding safety checks.

The recent ban of electronic devices larger than a smartphone on airplanes to the US and UK with certain airlines brought to light a ‘new’, more technologically-advanced terrorism. The US Department of Homeland Security said in a statement: “Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in electronics.”

“The US government continually reassesses existing intelligence and collects new intelligence. This allows us to constantly evaluate our aviation security processes and policies and make enhancements when they are deemed necessary to keep passengers safe.”

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Manny Gomez, a former FBI special agent, said: “We had the shoe bomber, cartridge attempt, now this is the next level. We need to be several steps ahead of them.”

There are now concerns that terrorists can use other techniques to evade, or trick, screening devices at European and US airports.

It was also reported that hackers were attempting to access nuclear power station security measures.

Government officials have warned that cyber terrorists and “hacktivists” are looking to exploit “vulnerabilities” in the nuclear industry’s internet defences.

Jesse Norman, the energy minister, told The Telegraph that nuclear plants must make sure that they “remain resilient to evolving cyber threats”.
Norman said: “The Government is fully committed to defending the UK against cyber threats, with a £1.9 billion investment designed to transform this country’s cyber security.”

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The civil nuclear strategy published in February sets out ways to ensure that the UK’s nuclear sector “can defend against, recover from, and remain resilient to evolving cyber threats”.

The five-year Civil Nuclear Cyber Security Strategy says: “The volume and complexity of cyber attacks against the UK are growing and the range of actors is widening.”

Government officials say that the threat from cyber attacks is “growing” and add: “These attacks could disrupt supply, damage facilities, delay hazard and risk reduction, and risk adverse impacts to workers, the public or the environment.”

Peter Carlisle, VP EMEA at Thales e-Security, commenting on the news, said that “cyber attacks against critical national infrastructure are set to increase dramatically as criminals develop increasingly heinous methods to jeopardise Britain’s national security.”

“From power stations to the transport network, the risk to the public remains severe, especially if hackers are able to gain access to electronic systems.”

>See also: The good guys are losing the cyber war but is the tide changing?

“To tackle this, the security industry must stand shoulder to shoulder with the government to protect data and critical infrastructure from attack and ensure hostile forces never have the opportunity to do us harm.”

Professor Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank for defence and security, said: “It is important for the Government to respond rapidly to evolving cyber security threats. The potential threats are wide-ranging and are coming from government and non-government sources. Crucially there has to be clear co-operation with the private sector to tackle this, especially as airports are usually in private hands.”


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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