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Cyberattack Blighty and we'll use 'military means' - UK gov

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LCC Any British response to a foreign state’s cyberattack would be proportionate, a Foreign Office official told The Register yesterday.

On Monday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron told the London Conference on Cyberspace (LCC) that threats of electronic attacks were “a real and pressing concern” for the country.

“This summer a significant attempt on the Foreign Office system was foiled. These are attacks on our national interest. They are unacceptable. And we will respond to them as robustly as we do any other national security threat,” Dave said.

John Duncan, the FCO’s special representative for the conference, told El Reg that the nation's response, military or otherwise, to cyberattacks was under constant review.

“The UK has just revised its nuclear declaratory policy, that is a reflection of the way the world is changing,” he said.

“As we look at the response to an attack through cyberspace, you can be quite sure that the government will keep this very closely under review to ensure that we respect the obligation to act proportionately - which is the fundamental principle of armed force. That’s a really key point in understanding what the Prime Minister is saying,” he added.

Duncan said that a major problem in dealing with international hacking attempts was working out where attacks are coming from.

“If one country launches an attack on another country using proxies – be they proxies in the original sense, meaning agents of that country, or proxy servers in the cyberspace world – we have to judge whether that is actually coming from a country,” he said. “And the first step is the diplomatic means and then the military means, as it has always been. We have to stand ready to respond in kind, because we’re very vulnerable, we’re all very vulnerable.”

Rise of the gangster-hacker

In other cases the attack may be coming from within a country, but enacted by criminal gangs or groups of terrorists, another possibility the government has to investigate.

“We no longer have the certainties of the Cold War,” Duncan said. “It’s very difficult to identify what the threat is and therefore it’s very difficult to train against the threat and to budget for the threat.

“It’s the non-state actor and the proxy actor that is the more dangerous threat to us today and it’s more difficult to prepare for because you don’t know where it’s coming from,” he added, acknowledging that it was the same in the real world.

Some would suggest that a weapon governments would like to have in their arsenal to deal with online issues is the ability to constrict social networks, something that has come up during the conference while both the Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Prime Minister have insisted that the UK supports an open and free internet.

After the summer riots, the government considered a move against the websites and services used by looters to communicate and organise raids.

“If you see something that’s a threat on one side of the cyberspace architecture, you have to be really careful in understanding that if you take action against it, it doesn’t damage the other parts of the architecture that you are trying to promote,” Duncan said. “And the British government did understand that.”

“There was a reaction of ‘What’s happening here, we need to have a look at it', and the conclusion was we should not do anything to constrain Facebook and BlackBerry and all those things because it would damage other things we are trying to do,” he added. ®

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