A former senior analyst to the US Secretary for Defense has warned that:
“Chinese companies apparently have a covert capability to remotely access communications technology sold to the United States and other Western countries and could disable a country’s telecommunications infrastructure before a military engagement.”
Writing on Friday, F Michael Maloof reported that:
“The Chinese also have the ability to exploit networks “to enable China to continue to steal technology and trade secrets,” according to the open source intelligence company Lignet, which is comprised of former U.S. intelligence analysts.
The issue centers on the Chinese firm Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., which U.S. intelligence sources say has direct links to the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. These sources assert that Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications firms such as ZTE Corp. have “electronic backdoors” to telecommunications technology sold to the U.S. and other countries.”
Huawei tell me that they are much-maligned and say that they are not linked to the People’s Liberation Army, but are just a private company trying to expand their business outside China.
In the UK the Government seems to be unconcerned that increasingly large parts of the country’s critical national infrastructure are under foreign ownership or are dependent for key components on overseas suppliers (there are a series of stories in yesterday’s Sunday Times behind its paywall about Chinese or Russian interests buying into the UK energy supply industry).
It is not clear why it can be assumed that these interests are necessarily benign and the UK Government doesn’t even seem to be interested in asking the question let alone doing anything about it.
How complacent can they get?
Seven and a half years ago, I warned in a debate in the House of Lords about the risk to the nation’s critical national infrastructure of a concerted cyber-attack, saying:
“As a nation, the systems that are essential for our health and well-being rely on computer and communications networks – whether we are talking about the energy utilities, the water and food distribution networks, transportation, the emergency services, telephones, the banking and financial systems, indeed government and public services in general – and all of them are vulnerable to serious disruption by cyber-attack with potentially enormous consequences. …
The threat could come from teenage hackers with no more motivation than proving that it could be done, but even more seriously it could come from cyber-terrorists intent on bringing about the downfall of our society. “
“there are also terrorists who would challenge and seek to undermine democratic society using any methods within their grasp. It is not complacent to say this; but perhaps it should be made plain that at the moment they do not appear to be interested in attacking us electronically.”
“British intelligence picked up “talk” from terrorists planning an Internet-based attack against the U.K.’s national infrastructure, a British official said, as the government released a long-awaited report on cyber security.
Terrorists have for some time used the Internet to recruit, spread propaganda and raise funds. Now, this official said, U.K. intelligence has seen evidence that terrorists are talking about using the Internet to actually attack a country, which could include sending viruses to disrupt the country’s infrastructure, much of which is now connected online. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and didn’t say when the infrastructure threat was detected and how it was dealt with.
Terrorists, however, are still more focused on physical attacks that lead to high casualties and grab attention. “For the moment they prefer to cover the streets in blood,” he said.”
UNITE has produced a powerful and compelling video on police privatisation.
It should give a clear message to the Home Office as well as to Chief Constables and putative elected Police and Crime Commissioners that simply out-sourcing large chunks of the police service will attract substantial opposition and is potentially hugely unpopular with the public.
There are no doubt some functions currently performed by in-house staff or by warranted officers that could be provided more efficiently by external providers. However, there are some functions which should never be allowed to fall outside the personal direction and control of the chief officer of police. This means that any out-sourcing proposals need to be clearly defined and consensus should be sought on whether the areas of activity can genuinely be provided from outside the police service without harming the coherence and integration of police services. The other key question that will have to be addressed explicitly is the accountability of those providing the service and the governance arrangements that are to be put around the activities.
So far, this has not been a convincing element of the proposals that have been floated. However, the next few years are likely to bring unprecedented reductions in policing budgets. These issues are not going to go away. And that is why the debate should start now. The UNITE video should be a catalyst for this process.
The Metropolitan Police Federation have produced this video to highlight the concerns of their members about pay and conditions and about cuts in the police service.
The depth of anger that will be reflected in the number of officers joining the march through London – in their own time – should not be ignored by the Government.
The negotiations over the Winsor report have been seriously mishandled and the consequences for police morale (and ultimately public safety) are very worrying.
If you like George Formby (which I do) but even if you don’t, you should watch this and be in no doubt about the depth of the anger within the Police Service about the proposed changes to police terms and conditions following on from the Winsor review:
Nearly three years I posted about the threat of an electro-magnetic pulse that could permanently disable the electricity grid and most electrical systems. I followed this up with some parliamentary questions and a further post this time last year that concluded:
“So the good news (heavy irony) is that the Government may have got round to working out what “the reasonable worst case scenario” might be.”
At the risk of coming over all I-told-you-so-ish, we now learn in today’s Observer that:
“Explosions on the sun that blast solar winds towards the Earth have been identified for the first time as one of the biggest threats to the UK’s ability to carry on normal daily life, according to a new official government register of major risks to the country.
A significant event on the sun could leave large swaths of the country without electricity, lead to the immediate grounding of planes, disable communications and even destroy household appliances.
The danger has been prioritised in the Cabinet Office’s National Risk of Civil Emergencies as the sun enters the most active point in its 10-year cycle – its solar max – raising the chances of a damaging burst of radiation, plasma or energetic particles (such as neutrons).
More significantly, the UK is regarded as particularly vulnerable because scientific advances have made the country more dependent on technology than ever before. Ministers have been advised by scientists that the most advanced technology is also the most delicate and that “high levels of energetic particles produced in the atmosphere by solar radiation storms can greatly enhance error rates in ground digital components found in all modern technology”.
The newly published risk register lists severe space weather alongside terrorist attacks, coastal flooding and pandemic influenza as likely sources of “serious damage to human welfare”.
It says: “Severe space weather can cause disruption to a range of technologies and infrastructure, including communications systems, electronic circuits and power grids.”
The register adds: “While storm impacts in the early- to mid-20th century appear relatively benign, dependency on technology vulnerable to space weather has pervaded most aspects of modern life, and therefore the disruptive consequences of a severe solar storm could be significant.”
The threat was placed on the register after a panel of experts, including two scientists from the Meteorological Office, produced a “reasonable worst case scenario” for ministers.”
My excellent webmaster, Jon Worth, has written a blog post about his experiences earlier today with security on the Eurostar from Brussels.
He describes the pointless inconveniences that were introduced to plug the holes in an already leaky system. The extra measures in place on his journey were presumably intended to plug the Lille loophole, described in the Telegraph today. Yet the “solution” provided hardly seems cost-efficient or particularly effective.
The Sunday Telegraph explains the problem as follows:
“The loophole centres on the Schengen agreement signed between a number of European countries, including France and Belgium, which allows people to cross borders without passport checks.
The UK is not in the agreement can therefore check the passports of passengers travelling here.
As a result there are two gates for Eurostar trains in Brussels, one for those going to Lille, which does not have passport checks, and one for the UK, which does.
It means an individual could buy two tickets and then pass through the Lille gate but stay on the train to London without having their passport examined.”
Jon Worth describes the extra checks which took place on his train (no doubt as a result of this morning’s article in the Sunday Telegraph):
“Then today when the train called at Lille for more passengers to alight and board, we were told on the public address system in the train that there would be additional checks in the train between Lille and Calais. These checks were carried out by a team of 7 French rail police carrying guns and batons, but just checking tickets (and not passports). I asked the policeman who checked my ticket why he was doing so. “Parce-que c’est comme ça” (because that’s the way it is) he replied. I pushed him further, saying that of course I had to have a valid ticket, because how otherwise could I have actually got on the train? “C’est contre la fraude” (it’s against fraud) was the best I got out of him before he moved off.”
So that wouldn’t have prevented anyone with evil intent slipping into the UK.
However, today there was an additional check at St Pancras:
“Then upon arrival in St Pancras, not announced to passengers on the train, all passports and all tickets were being checked by UK Borders at the exit. Which – quite frankly – seems to render other checks superfluous. Why bother having a UK Border check in Brussels, and French police check in the train, if you’re then going to check in London too?”
Excellent – apart from the extra costs of the unnecessary and ineffective security checks beforehand.
But what about the impact on passengers? As Jon Worth points out:
“due to the small terminal exit and a few hundred people streaming off a train, the checks are not swift in London.”
This means at peak time there will either be terrible delays or – as happened with other border controls – the extra checks will be lifted.
The problem is potentially serious and it is amazing that the Home Office seems so relaxed about it.
The report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (of which I am a member) has just been published.
Its key findings are that:
The Committee also expressed concern about the operation of the National Security Council concluding that it did not operate always at an appropriately “broad and strategic” level. For example, it became deeply involved in essentially operational issues during the operations in Libya. Moreover, it failed to consider the national security implications of the Eurozone crisis or the possibility of Scottish independence.
There is an excellent article in the New York Times that explains the behavioural psychology that is now linked to supermarket loyalty cards and on-line shopping patterns to target and personalise adverts and offers.
It describes an incident in a Target store (a major US chain) as follows:
“a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.
“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”
The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.
On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”
One of the difficulties in combatting terrorism is maintaining public support and vigilance over time as the memories of atrocities on mainland Britain fade. The recent conviction of nine men who plotted to bomb the London Stock Exchange and build a terrorist training camp is a reminder that the threat has not gone away. However, the Metropolitan Police campaign, “It’s probably nothing, but…“, will help reinforce the message that public vigilance is going to be essential – particularly in the run-up to the Olympics.
As the Met says:
“Everyone who works, lives and visits London has a role to play in helping to counter the terrorist threat which remains real and serious.”
The four week campaign consists of a 40 second radio advert to be aired on Kiss FM, Capital, LBC and GOLD, and press advertisements in local publications and minority media titles. The activity will also be supported by a digital presence on Spotify, and in excess of 1.4 million leaflets being delivered to households across London.
The radio advert recognises that some people may be reluctant to report suspicious activity or behaviour, such as someone paying for a car in cash but not taking it for a test drive, because ‘Chances are, it’s probably nothing’.
But it goes on to encourage people to think ‘But what if it isn’t'?
Just one piece of information could be vital in helping disrupt terrorist planning and, in turn, save lives.
The press advert seeks to reassure Londoners that if they see or hear something that could be terrorist related, they should trust their instincts and call the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline.