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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

UK preparing for cyber attacks that kill

Hostile states are behind the bulk of major attacks aimed at UK infrastructure

Ciaran Martin, chief executive officer of the UK's National Cyber Security Centre, pauses during a panel session on day two of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Bloomberg
Ciaran Martin, chief executive officer of the UK's National Cyber Security Centre, pauses during a panel session on day two of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Bloomberg

Hostile states are laying the groundwork for launching cyber attacks on the United Kingdom which have the ability to kill, a senior intelligence official said on Tuesday.

Ciaran Martin, the head of the UK’s cyber operations, said that state-led attacks presented the most “acute and direct cyber threat” to national security, with the most devastating form of attack likely to hit the country in the coming years.

Mr Martin said that nobody had been physically harmed during cyber-attacks from hostile states that had been logged for more than 20 years but said that state-sponsored hackers had prepared the ground for a potentially fatal attack.

“What we have seen is pre-positioning. You set down a landing point with a network that now or in the future could be used to devastating and destructive effect,” he told the BBC.

Mr Martin’s comments came as his organisation, the National Cyber Security Centre, revealed that it was repealing ten attempted attacks every week targeting vital UK national interests.

The bulk of the attacks came from unidentified hostile states. Major threats have previously been identified from states including Russia, Iran and North Korea.

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Earlier this month, the UK, US and the Netherlands accused Russia of carrying out a series of cyber plots across the globe that targeted the chemical weapons watchdog, anti-doping agencies, the US Democratic party and football’s world governing body, Fifa.

Mr Martin said that he expected Britain to be hit by a category one attack – defined as a “sustained disruption of UK essential services or affects UK national security, leading to severe economic or social consequences or to loss of life”. The UK has so far avoided such a major operation unlike most of its major allies.