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Security firms shrug shoulders over GCHQ cyberattack warning

Spy chief may have over-hyped threats

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Security firms reckon GCHQ's well-publicised warnings about the threat from cyber attacks earlier this week are timed to coincide with the run-up to the UK government's comprehensive spending review announcement.

We spoke to several security consultants who believe the threat warnings were aimed at making sure GCHQ's line of funding remains assured. If this was the case, it seems the approach has already been successful.

Iain Lobban, head of the GCHQ, warned that the the UK government is targeted with over 1,000 cyber attacks a month.

Sean Sullivan, security advisor for F-Secure, commented: "Iain Lobban’s comments seem strategically timed to protect GCHQ’s funding ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement on 20 October."

"One could even argue they are over-hyped because the sort of attacks or worms he refers to are very common and have been for some time. They are experienced by all sorts of different organisations failing to implement best security practices - not just Government agencies," Sullivan added.

F-Secure reckon the number of targeted email attacks has risen across all sectors of the UK economy. "The US's cyber command also recently spoke of worms 'targeting' them but, once again, most of these worms target everybody," Sullivan added.

As we reported on Thursday, the government is expected to earmark more than a billion pounds to finance an effort to bolster Britain's cyber security over the next three years, including plans to develop "active defence" capabilities that will surely tap the expertise of GCHQ.

Rik Ferguson, a security consultant at Trend Micro, argued it was important to ignore the "white noise" generated by the random scanning activity of worms such as Conficker in favour of concentrating on targeted attacks. "You need to make a judgement and cut through the stuff that looks like an attack to focus on the stuff that actually is an attack," he explained.

GCHQ's Lobban argued that co-operation between government agencies and the private sector is needed to combat complex and targeted threats, a point welcomed by security firm M86 Security.

Back in July, M86 Security identified a targeted attack aimed at an as yet unnamed UK high street bank and involving the Zeus crimeware toolkit. Since then more than 30 suspects - alleged money mules and organisers of the fraud - have been arrested in the UK, US and the Ukraine. ®

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