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MPs call on government to unleash the dogs of cyber war

17 Jul 2012

An influential group of MPs has urged UK security agencies to follow the example set by their US equivalents, using covert cyber attacks like Stuxnet and Flame to sabotage and spy on their enemies.

In its latest annual report, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) argued that security agencies must take a more proactive stance against cyber threats.

The cross-party committee claimed that passive, defensive measures against cyber attacks is no longer enough to protect the country's interests.

"While attacks in cyberspace represent a significant threat to the UK, and defending against them must be a priority, we believe that there are also significant opportunities for our intelligence and security agencies and military which should be exploited in the interests of UK national security,"  read the report.

The report calls for security services to actively interfere with terrorist groups and hostile governments via their computer systems.

The report also urged GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 to develop new "exploitation" and "disruption" techniques similar to Stuxnet, capable of covertly accessing targets' networks to obtain intelligence and hamper their operations.

In 2010 the UK government invested £650m in a new national cyber security programme.

While welcoming that investment, the ISC noted that the UK could ill-afford to rest on its laurels.

"Twenty months into the National Cyber Security Programme, there appears to have been some progress on developing cyber capabilities," read the report.

"However, cyber security is a fast-paced field and delays in developing our capabilities give our enemies the advantage."

Despite the ISC's insistence on adopting similar measures to the US,   security vendors have warned that the willingness of governments to use internet-based attacks could be potentially dangerous.

F-Secure security chief Mikko Hypponen went so far as to compare the recently discovered Flame malware to James Bond, stating that there's very little governments and companies can do to defend against such advanced forms of attack.

Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing (TwC) corporate vice president Scott Charney said the use of such tools would also hurt businesses if deployed.

Flame was uncovered in early May and is believed to have been created by a nation state, most likely the US and Israel, to target Iranian government computer systems.

Like Stuxnet it is believed to have been created by a government as opposed to private group.

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Alastair Stevenson

Alastair has worked as a reporter covering security and mobile issues at V3 since March 2012. Before entering the field of journalism Alastair had worked in numerous industries as both a freelance copy writer and artist.

View Alastair's Google+ profile

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