Spooks looking at cyber security


The South African intelligence community is to focus on the protection of critical national infrastructure and information security. That’s the word from state security minister Siyabonga Cwele.

Giving his annual budget vote last week, Cwele said the Electronic Communications Security (Pty) Ltd company, known as COMSEC “will continue to focus on the protection of critical national infrastructure and information security. We have received positive feedback from the piloting of the early-warning system conducted at Telkom and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), indicating the need for a rigorous roll-out of this programme.”
“The [SSA] has the responsibility of determining the National Security Posture within the organs of state. COMSEC conducted security assessment in 135 organs of state, consisting of 32 national departments, 24 provincial departments, 28 municipalities and 51 Public Entities. In the coming year we will focus in obtaining full international accreditation of our National Trust Centres.”

He did not give further detail. But Information Security Group (ISG) Africa founder Craig Rosewarne in March said South Africa was behind the information security awareness curve from both an African and international perspective. According to Rosewarne, no central information security body exists in SA to educate the layman around Internet security. “We don’t yet have a co-ordinated response centre for the whole country to use,” Rosewarne said at a Deloitte School of Risk Management and the ISG Africa event. He added it was imperative to form public and private partnerships in order to effectively deal with cyber security attacks.

He noted ISG Africa was aggressively striking up partnerships with various organisations such as Business Against Crime and SABRIC, which deals with financial fraud in banks. “We are also in discussions with the Chamber of Commerce and other government entities.” He pointed out that the company is looking to create a virtual cyber security centre, which is a step towards the group’s plans to drive an operational Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT), ITWeb reported. “However, we still need to partner with different players that can provide us with the infrastructure and teams of experts,” noted Rosewarne.

ISG Africa last year called SA’s first cyber security policy “unclear”, saying it failed to mention how the Department of Communications would roll out and manage national and sector-based CSIRTs. As per the cyber security policy drafted by the Department of Communications last year, this industry body still needs to be built. We need to first look at building various industry CSIRTs. We also need to reign-in government and parastatals such as Eskom…”

Cyber security has become a “hot button” issue in recent years. Reuters reported last week Western and emerging powers are pouring billions into not just cyber defences but also increasingly powerful electronic weaponry that could down essential national infrastructure, some worry events could one day spiral out of control.

The Stuxnet computer worm – widely believed to have been part of a state-backed attack on Iran’s nuclear programme in July last year – showed how cyber weaponry could target and damage physical systems.

Speaking in Singapore on Saturday, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said his country was seriously concerned about cyber-attacks and is prepared to use force against those it considers acts of war. “We take the cyber threat very seriously and we see it from a variety of sources, not just one or another country,” Gates said at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, an apparent reference to reports that several recent attacks may have originated in China. “What would constitute an act of war by cyber that would require some kind of response, either in kind or kinetically?” he said.
“We could avoid some serious international tensions in the future if we could establish some rules of the road as early as possible to let people know what kinds of acts are acceptable, what kinds of acts are not and what kinds of acts may in fact be acts of war.”

Last week Google said it had disrupted a campaign aimed at stealing passwords of hundreds of Google email account holders, including senior US government officials, Chinese activists and journalists. It was the latest in a series of cyber attacks that have also targeted defence contractor Lockheed Martin and media company Sony. Google said the latest breach appeared to originate in China but neither the company nor the US government has said the Chinese government was responsible. But the US State Department has asked Beijing to investigate, Reutersadded.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said cyber attacks were now regular and in large numbers. “It’s….the war of the invisible enemy,” he said, adding that it had become a matter of urgency and was firmly on top of the security agenda.