It’s silly season again.
Yesterday George Osborne warned that Islamists were tooling up and planning deadly cyber-attacks against the UK, targeting critical systems like ATC and hospitals, as he announced government spending on countermeasures would double from about £200M to £400M a year. Mr Osborne shown a rather tenuous grasp of technology in the past, and I fear he’s been watching too many Hollywood movies when forming his current opinion.
I know a bit about ATC, and the chances of a jihadi disrupting NAS over the internet are slight. Damaging aviation is much easier by more direct means.
Likewise, while I have little time for the design of NHS computers systems, even they’d be hard to seriously disrupt. So difficult that it really wouldn’t be worth the bother. If you want to knock out a hospital, blow up the generators and electricity feed – it’s obvious. About the only systemic damage you could do remotely would be to mess up central databases, but these seem to get messed up regularly anyway, and the world goes on.
But this seems positively sane and sensible compared to today’s report from the “US-China Economic and Security Review Commission”. They’re all exercised about those nasty Chinese guys pinching trade secrets by hacking in to US companies and their government agencies. I’m sceptical about the idea that the Chinese government is behind this, and the Commission has weakened the credibility of their claims with their suggested response to the activity:
Yes folks, their suggestion is that Americans hack in to the Chinese systems and steal back or delete the stolen data. How exactly does one steal back data? And do they really think it’s possible to locate, identify and delete stolen data found in a foreign country. Deleting all copies of data from a local system is hard enough, and if the IT department knows its stuff, it’s impossible as it won’t all be on-line.
Whilst there’s plenty of evidence that people in China, and possibly the military, are engaged in cyber-espionage, this idea reads like the plot of another Hollywood movie of the type George Osborne seems to have been watching. Everyone in the security world knows that the majority of criminal activity on the Internet actually comes from…. the USA. This doesn’t mean the US government is behind it – by the sound of the advice they’re getting, they wouldn’t know how.
People like me have been saying that cyber-crime is (going to be) a big problem for many years now, and I welcome governments waking up and taking it seriously at last. The private sector has done spectacularly badly, as the money is in the superficial stuff, and real security gets in the way of profits. It’s just a shame that governments have woken up and are groping groggily around in the dark.