By Dr Christopher Richardson and Neil McDonald at Bournemouth University Cyber Security Unit (BUCSU)
The UK and USA have announced that they are to stage a large scale cyber ‘war game’ exercise to test their readiness to protect against and respond to a large scale cyber-attack.
The simulated events will involve collaboration between the UK’s GCHQ and MI5 with their US counterparts in the NSA and FBI launching a cyber-war simulation that will initially focus on the financial sector before progressing onto critical national infrastructure such as gas and electricity networks.
At first glance this planned event appears to be on a far larger scale than the previous exercise “Waking Shark 2” event carried out in 2013 which focused on 20 British banks and financial organisations undergoing cyber warfare simulations to test their defences against a sustained and intensive cyber-attack.
Cyber Security has been high on the transatlantic political agenda recently after the Sony hacking leaks and more recently, and perhaps more embarrassing for the US, the takeover of the military’s Central Command Twitter account by supporters of the pro-Islamic state group ISIL while President Obama was addressing the Federal Trade Commission on the subject of Cyber Security.
The recent events in Paris and Belgium have demonstrated the importance of online intelligence and the necessity of intercepting online communications in the continuing fight against terrorism and online crime. The Prime Minister said cyber-attacks were "one of the big modern threats that we face".
Additionally the Home Secretary Theresa May gave her full support to the controversial Communications Data Bill, dubbed by some as the “Snoopers charter”, stating “it is imperative that intelligence agencies are able to intercept communications where it is necessary and proportionate to do so”.
The issues associated with cyber security and around the subject of the interception of communications raise difficult issues but are clearly a sign of the times we are living in. The recent news events highlight the importance of the Cyber Security issue in general, and more specifically the impact that readily available technologies like email encryption and secure messaging are having on intelligence agencies and their ability to keep the people safe from cyber threats and acts of terrorism.