The British military is heavily dependent upon technology and could be brought to a halt by a cyberattack, according to a report by the House of Commons Defense Committee, published January 9. The committee warned that cyberthreats can evolve “with almost unimaginable speed and with serious consequences for the nation’s security.”
It said it was “concerned that with the armed forces now so dependent on information and communications technology, should such systems suffer a sustained cyberattack, their ability to operate could be fatally compromised.”
The committee fears that the government is not preparing properly for such an attack.
Maj. Gen. Jonathan Shaw, former head of cyber security at the Ministry of Defense, wasn’t very comforting as he defended the government on bbc Radio 4’s Today program. Britain is “extremely vulnerable” to cyberattacks, he said—adding that the government was working hard to counter them.
He warned that the threat changes so quickly that it’s hard for the government to develop contingency plans.
He also said that ultimately, the government alone cannot ensure Britain is secure from this type of threat. Attacks on civilian infrastructure can hamper or halt the military, but in a free society it is hard for the government to defend this infrastructure.
General Shaw called for a “cyber hygiene campaign” to get companies and individuals to do their part in defending the nation from cyberattacks.
“There is no such thing as absolute security in cyberspace,” he warned. “What we need to do is make ourselves as safe as we possibly can be.”
This is the problem with cyberwar. It is much harder to defend against a cyberattack than it is to carry out one. An attacker just needs to find one weakness. A defender needs to eliminate them all.
The select committee’s report highlights the problem any hi-tech nation has defending against these threats. Even if the army does its part perfectly, the company that manufactures its electronic equipment could make a mistake. The national grid or water system could be hit.
No nation has experienced a crippling cyberattack yet. This makes such an attack very hard to prepare for. Throwing a lot of money at the problem won’t fix it. A cyberattack is one of Britain’s and America’s biggest weaknesses.
For more information on this threat, see our article “The Invisible War.” ▪