Has the U.K. left itself dangerously open to serious harm from a cyber attack on its armed forces?
That's the danger suggested by a report by lawmakers, who point out that brave talk about major investment in the form of £650 million ($1 billion) in protecting the U.K.'s cyber defenses has translated to a much more modest £90 million ($144 million) for British soldiers, sailors and air force personnel.
In fact, IT security leaders in the British fighting forces found that sum so paltry they've dipped into their own hard-pressed 2012-13 budget by a further £30 million ($48 million) -- which is also deemed inefficient. This has to be put in the context that in the 2011-12 financial timeframe, these forces had a budget of $63 billion (the U.K. hovers between being the fourth or fifth biggest combatant in the world in term of its national access to arms).
The alleged underfunding is translating on the ground to supposedly risky workarounds like using too much off-the-shelf packaged software instead of internally developed customized apps. Worse, in most cases, the most teams are being told to do is to update their anti-virus software, a move that is unlikely to hold up any halfway determined incursion from an antagonist's cyber warfare staff.
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The study isn't going to be the basis for any kind of official policy; the work of the (lower) house of the British polity, the House of Commons' Defence Committee is more along the lines of a Senate Hearing.
But these reports -- produced by cross-party (bipartisan) groups who interview experts and stakeholders -- are still taken seriously. In this case, the politicians were also provided extensive data from Symantec and other security leaders as well as the U.K.'s defense industries, which include companies like BAE Systems, EADS and Raytheon. Its warnings are likely to boost lobbying by the MoD (Ministry of Defence, the British equivalent of the Pentagon) for more resources.
The report contends that increasing reliance by the U.K. state defenses on information and communication technology isn't being matched by enough actual work to boost safety. Two years ago, the government identified cyber warfare as on a par as a threat with international terrorism, but it seems to have done little of practical impact to match that level of rhetoric.
"The government needs to put in place -- as it has not yet done -- mechanisms, people, education, skills, thinking and policies which take into account both the opportunities and the vulnerabilities which cyberspace presents," the Committee's chair told the U.K. press today. The opportunity created by cyber tools and techniques to enhance the military capabilities of the U.K.'s military is clear, he added.
Reaction to the report has ranged from warmth from part of what we should still probably call the military-industrial complex, who agreed with the warning, to commentators who pointed out that compared to its G20 peers, the U.K. is actually pretty much holding its own in starting to build an appropriate cyber defense infrastructure.
Whatever the truth, in the age of Stuxnet, upping your anti-viral capability may not be all that MoD CIOs should be doing.
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