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Cyber war games to take place between the UK and USA

20 January, 2015
The UK and US Governments now plan to launch war games with the two countries simulating cyber attacks initially targeting the financial sector

David Cameron and Barack Obama have joined forces and announced plans to implement a rolling programme of ‘war game’ cyber attacks on each other, which will be conducted by GCHQ, MI5 and the FBI. Targeting critical national infrastructure, a key element of the programme will be the sharing of information, with the first test seeing a staged attack on the financial sector later on in the year. During this exercise, the Bank of England and commercial banks in the City of London and Wall Street will be targeted in a bid to ensure adequate security measures are in place.

Industry reaction to the news of the collaborative efforts of the two countries has been unanimous in its support and that such measures have been needed already for some time. The cyber world is not dissimilar to the real world in its need for defence drills, as noted by Webroot Threat Researcher, Roy Tobin.

Roy told us: "Vital services already have regular drills against more traditional methods of attack, but with a growing number of cyber attacks on large companies, the government has recognised the need for far more comprehensive cyber warfare protection. These tests will go beyond the normal scope of internal security testing by using custom malware built specifically to try and bring down a particular service".

However, it isn't just the games themselves and how the Governments of the two countries react to them that's important, but also the way in which the intelligence and expertise gained is communicated out to the wider community. The potential benefits to commercial industry are enormous if they're not kept in the dark.

As Ross Brewer of LogRhythm told us, "The games are only worthwhile if the lessons learned are acted upon and shared with a wider audience. It doesn’t matter which industry you are in, or which country you live, it’s still us against the bad guys".

Put in historical context, this level of cooperation between states isn't a new thing as the UK and USA have been collaborating on cyber conflict simulation exercises regularly during the last decade and have been a crucial factor in developing qualified responses to cyber attacks, even though these responses may not have made headline news.

With more recent attacks such as the Sony breach bringing cyber warfare and terrorism higher into public awareness, people still nonetheless struggle to grasp the concept of cyber conflict wreaking havoc on communities in the same way as conventional conflict. Critical infrastructure attacks are hard to conceptualise.

However, as former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell noted, cyber-war has the potential to mirror the doomsday nuclear threat – less in the physical sense, but in terms of the potential economic and psychological effects. The threat posed and potential consequences go beyond one sector’s scope to deal with it effectively.

According to Andy Settle, the Chief Cyber Security Consultant & Head of Practice at Thales UK, this is why the process for dealing with these threats must take a collaboration approach between the government, civilian world and the military.  

"A successful attack on a country’s financial sector, for example, could lead to disastrous consequences throughout the world, with staggering effects on markets. To this end, it is promising to see that the first drill of this collaborative project is targeting the City of London and Wall Street, taking clear precautions to ensure the security of these countries’ economic infrastructure", said Andy

Jonathan Newell is a broadcast and technical journalist specialising in security systems and transport safety. He contributes to a range of titles in the technical press. He shares his time between the UK and Kazakhstan


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