Crack CERT warriors arrive to save UK from grid-crippling hack attacks

National CERT goes live today

Parliament in the clouds

The UK is finally getting a national Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), with the delayed launch of the organisation taking place today.

CERT-UK, a key component of the government's £650m National Cyber Security Strategy, will co-ordinate responses to hacking and malware-based cyber attacks on a national level. The organisation was supposed to be up and running last year, but recruitment and other issues meant its launch was delayed for months.

Chris Gibson, former director of e-Crime at Citigroup, is taking up the lead role as director of CERT-UK, following his appointment last November. Gibson chaired the international Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams for the last two years.

CERT-UK has two main roles. Its primary job is incident management response for the UK as a whole, co-ordinating response to cyber-security incidents such as malware outbreaks and hack attacks. The new body will also act as a peer to its international partners, sharing technical information on attacks.

The org's newly established website summarises its role as "working with partners across industry, government and academia to enhance the UK’s cyber resilience". It will publish alerts and advisories as well as best practice guides.

The UK has had industry-specific CERTs for years – including Janet CSIRT for university networks and comparable organisations within government and for the UK military – but has been slower than other countries in setting up a national CERT. For example US-CERT has been operational since 2003.

EU cyber security agency ENISA recently called for better data sharing and interoperability among European CERTs. Information sharing between senior techies with management positions in universities and the banking sector is not controversial. However, wider sharing of information is a politically fraught notion, as demonstrated by controversy over the US Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).

CISPA proposed to allow private companies to share customer information and other data with the NSA and other US government agencies, improving cybersecurity in the process, at least according to its backers. But laws putting this into place have already failed to get past Congress twice since 2011. Privacy activists opposed the law long before the Snowden revelations made such measures even more controversial.

IT security vendors have welcomed the CERT-UK launch.

Mike Ellis, chef exec at identity management middleware firm ForgeRock, said: “The creation of the UK'S Cyber Emergency Response Team (CERT-UK) is a step in the right direction, but, following delays, it is now long overdue. With a strong leadership team and some key partnerships, CERT is well positioned to develop the UK’s cyber defences against state-sponsored and criminal attacks on critical systems, such as the energy grid and power stations. ®

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