Cyber security becoming the 'arms race of the 21st century'
by Jim Murphy
Defence policy is changing as countries rush to grow the technologies and skills, which will allow them to dominate the domain, writes former Europe minister
It is not an exaggeration to say that the emergence of cyberspace is among the biggest changes in human history. Until now we have operated in four contested areas – land, sea, air and space. We now have a fifth: information. Digital technologies dominate all aspects of our society - from education to how we support critical infrastructure, from communication to business and of course how we support and enable our Armed Forces.
From the Stuxnet virus to American warnings of increased state-led cyber attacks, the threat has become central to the modern security landscape. Global by nature and dependent on a loosely governed and rapidly evolving technology, cyber diffuses power among different actors. As the scale of our security posture's dependence on digital technologies grows, so too will the potential for disruption and abuse.
That is why the recent United Kingdom Defence Select Committee report on cyber security will be a worry to all. It is now clear that policy progress is falling behind the pace of the threat our armed forces face and real action is needed. In designing our cyber defence policy, I agree the Chief of Defence Staff with General Sir David Richards. He said that the UK must learn to defend, delay, attack and manoeuvre in cyberspace just as we might on the land, sea or air.
In many ways it highlights the changing nature of defence policy. The cyber threat lies next to modern threats such as a nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack or an electromagnetic storm caused by solar activity. Cyber demands new strategies and capabilities as part of a necessarily diverse modern defence posture. Cyber security could be the arms race of the 21st century as countries rush to grow the technologies and skills, which will allow them to dominate the domain. The UK must remain competitive but that means using all the expertise which exists within our borders and amongst our allies.
As the Defence Select Committee report makes clear, Britain has vulnerabilities. The UK government stand accused of complacency and lacking contingency planning. A lack of requisite advanced skills within the Ministry of Defence, insufficient integrated working with industry and a reliance on off-the-shelf procurement were raised as real concerns; to the extent that the report said our Forces could be "fatally compromised".
This is a priority area for the Labour Party. We share the assessment of this as a 'tier one' threat and our defensive strategies can go further. We must develop real professional expertise in this area to both maintain and develop systems. This can be based on greater knowledge-sharing between public and private sectors, which is essential. Government can use the power of procurement to instil best practice. For example, through kitemarks for those with high standards of cyber security.
Cyber, like so many modern threats, knows no borders. To be truly effective, our defence strategy must be international. Global coordination is already happening, but cyber cooperation within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is relatively limited. The alliance needs to strengthen discussions in areas including legislation over prosecution, the scope for collaboration, governance strategies for emerging technologies and engagement with international business.
These and many more are all essential elements of a comprehensive cyber security strategy for our forces. All nations must balance the benefits brought by cyberspace - freedom of expression, the global spread of ideas and technical innovation - with increasing awareness and resilience. The Defence Committee's report should be a wake-up call for policy-makers.
Jim Murphy MP is the British Labour Party's Shadow Defence Secretary and a former Europe minister
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These things all are just limited to papers or articles only. Nobody is there to truly act on them and neither are they trying to, if approached. Think global not local.