The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is looking to recruit hundreds of cyber security experts in an attempt to protect British computer networks, amidst an increasing number of cyber attacks and the creation of cyber warfare departments by nations like China and the United States.
“What we are trying to do is to work up a cadre of experts who will drill into everyone across government and our industrial partners the necessary skills and capabilities to deter attacks and cope with an attack when it happens,” Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey told the Financial Times.
An MoD spokesman said that the ministry was seeking to “significantly grow” the number of dedicated cyber experts, according to the Defence Management Journal.
“The number will be in the hundreds but precise details are classified,” the spokesman said. “As with all personnel they will be expected to serve wherever necessary to do their jobs and this could be in the UK or in operational theatre.”
The MoD is developing an offensive cyber capability after £650 million of funding was approved last year, when the UK identified cyber attacks as a tier one threat in its National Security Strategy.
In November last year the Royal Navy was forced to take down its website after it was disrupted by hackers. There was no malicious damage but the RN website was temporarily suspended as a precaution.
From hacking attacks aimed at information theft and commercial espionage to the Stuxnet computer worm believed to have been designed to attack Iran’s nuclear programme last year, information warfare is rising rapidly.
More and more countries are setting up their own cyber warfare divisions and experts predict that cyberspace is likely to be a key battleground for states in the 21st century -the United States has set up cyber warfare facilities and Germany is doing so this year.
In addition, late last month, China’s military established a 30-person strong Internet security task force to protect China from cyber attacks. State media said the ‘Blue Army’ was not intended to create a hacker force and would be used solely for defensive purposes. The People’s Liberation Army has invested tens of millions of yuan in the cyber warfare project.
The establishment of the cyber warfare unit has caused concern in many Western countries, such as the United States, Australia and Germany, which accuse China of being behind high profile hacking events.
In February US cyber firm McAfee, which markets anti-virus products, said that Chinese hackers had infiltrated the networks of oil companies around the world, stealing financial documents and other sensitive information.
Yesterday current and former national security officials said that top Pentagon contractors have been bleeding secrets for years as a result of penetrations of their computer networks. The Defence Department, which runs its own worldwide eavesdropping, spying and code-cracking systems, says more than 100 foreign intelligence organisations have been trying to break into US networks.
Joel Brenner, the national counterintelligence executive from 2006 to 2009, said most if not all of the big defence contractors’ networks had been pierced. “This has been happening since the late ’90s,” he told Reuters. He identified the main threats as coming from Russia, China and Iran.
“They’re after our weapons systems and R&D,” or research and development, said Brenner, now with the law firm of Cooley LLP in Washington.
Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon’s number one supplier by sales, said on Saturday that it had thwarted “a significant and tenacious” attack on its information systems network that it detected on 21 May. Ten days later, the company says it’s still working to restore full employee access to the network while maintaining the highest level of security.
Lockheed, which is also the government’s top information technology provider, said it had become “a frequent target of adversaries from around the world”. A spokesperson said it used the term “adversaries” only in a general sense.
Cyber intruders were reported in 2009 to have broken into computers holding data on Lockheed’s projected $380 billion-plus F-35 fighter programme, the Pentagon’s costliest arms purchase.
Other big Pentagon contractors include Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, BAE Systems and Raytheon. Each of these declined to comment on whether it believed its networks had been penetrated.
Meanwhile, from yesterday the UK began accepting applications for its Cyber Security Challenge, which aims to find qualified people that are willing to pursue a career in computer security. Through a series of online and face to face tests, entrants will thwart attacks, defend networks and track down wrongdoers during the 12 month long project.