PM seeks cyber-attack help from US


Published: Sunday 11th January 2015 by The News Editor

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David Cameron will push for stronger UK-US collaboration on cyber-security when he visits Washington for talks with President Barack Obama on Thursday.

The threat from internet hackers will be high on the agenda for the two-day visit, which includes a working dinner at the White House on Thursday evening, followed by an Oval Office meeting with Obama on Friday.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister and president will also be discussing counter-terrorism, a week after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, as well as a range of other international issues including the threat from ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in Syria and Iraq, Russia’s destabilisation of Ukraine and the global economic outlook.

The White House said the visit would reaffirm the special relationship between the trans-Atlantic allies and highlight the “strong bonds of friendship” between the American and British people.

The visit is likely to be viewed by Conservative strategists as a welcome opportunity in the run-up to May’s general election for Mr Cameron – who recently revealed that Obama addresses him informally as “bro” – to be photographed alongside the President playing a prominent role on the international stage.

A Downing Street source said: “The Prime Minister is looking forward to the visit which will be an opportunity to discuss the global economic outlook, how we boost growth and increase free trade, and a number of national security issues such as ISIL, counter-terrorism and Russia’s actions in Ukraine.”

The Prime Minister’s visit to Washington comes as a report by intelligence experts from GCHQ warns that computer networks of UK companies are coming under attack on a daily basis by hackers, criminal gangs, commercial rivals and foreign intelligence services, with incidents typically costing £600,000 to £1.5 million to resolve.

As part of its £860 million National Cyber Security Programme, the Government is to dramatically increase the number of “cyber special” volunteers from the private sector – often experienced software developers and network engineers – who are available to be called in by police and the National Crime Agency (NCA) to tackle specific attacks.

A quadrupling of the number based at the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit and a fivefold increase in those working in police forces and regional organised crime units around the country will bring the ranks of cyber specials up to a total of 80. The specials played a vital role last year in helping to disrupt the global GameOver Zeus botnet, which was estimated to have allowed criminals to steal more than 100 million US dollars (£66m) worldwide.

The GCHQ report “Common Cyber Attacks: Reducing the Impact” finds that more than 80% of large UK companies experienced some form of security breach in 2014.

The eavesdropping service’s director Robert Hannigan said: “In GCHQ, we continue to see real threats to the UK on a daily basis, and I’m afraid the scale and rate of these attacks shows little sign of abating.”

And the report warned: “The internet can be a hostile environment. The threat of attack is ever-present as new vulnerabilities are released and commodity tools are produced to exploit them.

“Doing nothing is no longer an option; protect your organisation and your reputation by establishing some basic cyber defences to ensure that your name is not added to the growing list of victims.”

Alongside the report’s publication later this week will be the launch of an updated version of the Government’s guidance on cyber-security, offering tips for companies to defend themselves against an array of attacks.

Incidents uncovered by GCHQ intelligence include:

:: A “watering hole attack” against a web design company which hosts sites for a number of UK businesses in the energy sector. By adding code to one website, the attackers were able to redirect visiting users’ browsers to one of three sites controlled by them, in what GCHQ believes to have been part of a continuing commercial espionage campaign.

:: A “remote access malware” attack infecting more than 300 computers in a large UK company, in which the attackers took advantage of vulnerability in an externally-managed corporate website to bypass the company’s otherwise good security measures. This allowed them to gain information about the firm’s internal network and take control of a number of computers which sent information back to them.

: A “spear-phishing” attack targeting a high-profile UK organisation’s system administrator with an email containing an attachment with malicious software which allowed the attacker to access information about the wider network and details of multiple business-critical systems.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement: “Prime Minister Cameron’s visit highlights the breadth, depth and strength of our relationship with the United Kingdom, as well as the strong bonds of friendship between the American and British people.

“The two leaders will discuss a range of issues including economic growth, international trade, cyber-security, Iran, ISIL, counter-terrorism, Ebola, and Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“The United Kingdom is a uniquely close friend and steadfast ally, and the President looks forward to beginning the New Year by working with Prime Minister Cameron on these issues and reaffirming the enduring special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.”

Mr Cameron has previously visited the White House for talks in 2010, 2013 and most memorably in 2012, when his lavish welcome included a 19-gun salute on the White House lawn and a black tie dinner with Hollywood stars, as well as a trip with Mr Obama on Air Force One.

Published: Sunday 11th January 2015 by The News Editor

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