MOD cyber graphic (Crown Copyright, 2013)

Should Conventional Warfare Be Used Against Cyber Attackers?

Cyber Warfare Top of the Bill at Chatham House Conference

The answer is ‘yes,’ according to the UK’s Secretary of defence, Sir Michael Fallon. Speaking at the Cyber 2017 conference at Chatham House, London.

Cyber 2017

Fallon told Cyber 2017 delegates that Britain would respond to identified cyber attacks with the full range of its “air, land, sea, or cyber” capabilities:

We’re using our rising budget to invest our £178 billion [US$228 billion] in full spectrum capability, from carriers to Ajax armored vehicles, fifth generation F35 to the latest UAVs, signalling to potential cyber strikers that the price of an online attack could invite a response from any domain. We now have the skills to expose cyber criminals, to hunt them down and to prosecute them.

Fallon added that British cyber attacks are beginning to have a major effect on degrading Islamic State’s (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) ability, according to the Sun.

Parliament Cyber Attack

Speaking about the recent cyber attack on the British parliament, Fallon said:

Last Friday we saw the UK hit by yet another cyberattack, this time directed against our parliamentary IT systems.

Investigations so far have found that the hackers were attempting to carry out a sustained and determined attack on all parliamentary user accounts in an attempt to identify weak passports to gain access to users’ emails.

 

 

We have no evidence yet as to who was behind the attack on Parliament, it is too early to speculate what kind of actor was involved. When we know, we have got to consider how to respond […] respond in kind to any assault at a time of our choosing.

Fallon called out Russia as an “aggressor state”, which was “working overtime to discolour our democracy.” He claimed that Russia launches approximately 60 attacks on Britain’s government and commercial sectors every month.

Possibly in reference to events in Eastern Europe, Fallon said a cyber attack could trigger NATO’s Article V covering mutual defence, which states that an attack on one member state is an attack on all.

HMS Queen Elizabeth Vulnerable to Cyber Attack

Fallon’s statements come as it is revealed that the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is running outdated software. The carrier’s systems are operating with Windows XP – the Windows operating system has been historically vulbnerable to cyber attack, but Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft, meaning that critical security updates and patches will no longer be available to keep the system protected.

IT expert at the University of Surrey, Professor Alan Woodward, was quoted in the Times:

If XP is for operational use, it is extremely risky. Why would you put an obsolete system in a new vessel that has a lifetime of decades?

21st Century Cyber Corps

Fallon emphasized that the “sustained and determined cyber attack” on Parliament was a “wake up call to us all.” In response, Fallon revealed that the government is “building up a new 21st Century Cyber Corps, a band of expert volunteers, leaders in the industry, who are going to advise us on how to keep ahead in the cyber space race.”

Image: MOD cyber graphic (Crown Copyright, 2013).