The very real threat of high profile cyber-attacks during the Olympics, in London, should be taken seriously by government and businesses - says Paul Davis
The British Home Office has warned that cyber-attacks pose as serious a threat to the United Kingdom's national security as a form of terrorism, particularly as we gear up for the start of the London Olympic Games. Richard Clarke, the Home Office security and counter terrorism department director, claims that hackers appear to be becoming more aggressive and persistent in their efforts. This very real threat of a high-profile cyber-attack - at a time when London is poised to be under the intense scrutiny of global press - is certainly an alarming prospect.
Clarke also hints at the staggering scale of the security effort being enforced ahead of London 2012, and warns that cyber security measures are increasingly difficult to implement as a result of the widespread use of information technology. As such, it remains that many networks are still vulnerable to attack - with the greatest risk posed to sensitive intellectual property or private information held in cyberspace. The power, expertise and determination of modern cyber criminals is also compounded by our reliance on IT in daily life; meaning that an attack on our critical infrastructure would now prove disastrous and should not be overlooked or understated.
British security minister James Brokenshire claims that the UK government has been working to ensure the security of the country against all forms of potential attacks during the Olympics, for the last five years. Describing the current threat level as "substantial", he pledges that the government will remain vigilant against cyber threats in the run up to the games. Such stark warnings from the Home Office - and of course, MI5 just recently - only reinforce the fact that cyber-attacks pose a severe and very real threat, which must be urgently acted upon by organisations and governments worldwide.
Clarke is certainly right to warn of the increased aggression of hackers, as what is an exciting time for Britain presents a tempting opportunity for the bad guys to wreak havoc by sneaking in through the back door - just as all eyes are on the games. It is, therefore, vital that efforts to secure our virtual infrastructure are stepped up and brought in line with physical security strategies. As such, organisations would be well advised to ensure that their ongoing security measures meet the demands of the evolving threat landscape.
As always, high-profile breaches and the discovery of increasingly sophisticated malware – such as the Flame virus – continue to dominate global headlines and serve as a reminder that traditional security measures simply cannot keep up with the modern threat landscape. Cyber criminals have grown adept at bypassing the often woefully outdated anti-virus, firewalls and other perimeter-based defences - with the use of persistent, sophisticated and potentially disastrous tactics. So, while it is encouraging to see that we are waking up to the realities of the cyber-threat, there is still some way to go. With London 2012 described as "the biggest peace-time security endeavour in the last 20 years", businesses must really up the ante on pre-emptive security measures - at this critical time for the UK. Paul Davis is director of Europe at the information technology security firm FireEye. This article first appeared on PublicServiceEurope.com's sister site publicservice.co.uk 'Severe cyber-attacks could wreak havoc at the olympics'