Prof John Walker (Europe) - Advanced Persistent Cyber Threats Within the UK

History has demonstrated that malicious activities have grown, covering a spectrum from the early days of research conducted by Fred Cohen, through to infections of UK based targets by the Conflicker virus, or attacks against the UK Royal Navy site in 2011. Today the UK is encountering an increase with the challenge of managing and mitigating new order Cyber Security exposures, and the associated Advanced & Persistent Threats (APT), imposing significant overheads on operations, manifesting in impact on real time operational support.

This new focus point on security concentrates the operational capabilities on zero-day threats, malware, phishing, spam, to name but a few, all hosting very real potentials to compromise the economic epicentre of the UK economy. Both home grown and organised variants of cyber crime activities have become very proficient in the management - and delivery of their operations.

Within period Q3/2010, the UK was encountering high levels of malicious APT. This  placed the security industry on its back foot, awaiting the next attack to counter - a position which remains extant in Q2/11. In fact, such was the success of new-wave attacks in December 2010, the UK government became victim of a cyber-attack using the notorious Zeus agent. At the time, government officials commented that the attacks had been part of an International effort to infect systems, with the UK government being targeted. On this occasion it was evident that APT had been encountered in real time as a large number of malicious emails bypassed some filtering, circumventing the security posture of their protecting gateways. A position which was further supported by an announcement made by the GCHQ director Mr Iain Lobban, warning of the increased opportunities of malicious cyber capabilities.

To bring the position of APT up-to-date in Q2/2011, a brand new variant of an internet banking Trojan (SpyEye) was encountered circulating in the wild, utilizing sophisticated methods to intercept mTANs sent to mobile phones, providing more evidence that this is a security challenge which needs attention 24/7.

Without doubt the position of APT in 2011 would suggest that to protect the UK boarders and internal operations, APT is a subject which needs to be high on the agenda of the Operational Security Mission to insure alertness is in place.

By Professor John Walker, London Chapter ISACA Security Advisory Group and Director of Communications Common Assurance Maturity Model Certified, Accredited Security Professional, Visiting Professor, and Author.



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