Why Britain IS Desperately Vulnerable to Cyber Terror; No Food. No Fuel. No Power. Science Editor MICHAEL HANLON Imagines the Fallout from an Attack on the Computer Networks on Which We've Become Dangerously Reliant

Daily Mail (London), October 19, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Why Britain IS Desperately Vulnerable to Cyber Terror; No Food. No Fuel. No Power. Science Editor MICHAEL HANLON Imagines the Fallout from an Attack on the Computer Networks on Which We've Become Dangerously Reliant


Byline: MICHAEL HANLON

UNLIkE the credit crunch of the Noughties, this financial crash came out of the blue. Economists were silent when asked to explain the cataclysmic run on sterling in the winter of 2017. This time, greedy bankers were not to blame.

And far worse was to come.

In Suffolk, the shiny new Sizewell-C reactor, the first of the new generation of atomic-power plants, started to go haywire.

For a few anxious hours, engineers were in a state of near-panic, fearing a British Chernobyl 80 miles from London; helicopters were on standby to evacuate the 91-year-old Queen from Windsor.

And when Drax, the coalburning dinosaur of a power station that provided 7 per cent of Britain's electricity, went down an hour later, the country started to go into meltdown.

Power cuts scythed through Britain, plunging cities into darkness. Even in places where the grid stayed up, people found themselves without electricity; the new smart meters, built into every home to cut emissions, malfunctioned en masse.

Chaos The nationwide panic meant supermarket shelves emptied and petrol stations ran out of fuel after just four days. Within a week, power cuts were everywhere.

There was no TV, no radio and no mobile networks.

After a fortnight, there were riots, and the military, which was itself crippled by mysterious communications glitches, was called in.

It was only after two months of chaos that order was gradually restored. But the attack of January 2017, which became known as the Britain's 'Pearl Harbour', had brought one of the world's most advanced nations almost to its knees.

It had also cost an estimated 2,900 lives (mostly from cold -- the attack happened in the middle of the worst winter for 54 years) and [pounds sterling]80bn to clear up.

But the worst of it was no one ever discovered who was to blame.

This terrifying scenario may seem like a science fiction movie. But it is exactly the sort of possibility currently being considered at the highest levels in government as part of the National Security Strategy.

Yesterday, the government ranked cyber warfare -- attacks on Britain's IT infrastructure -- alongside terrorism as the most serious threat to national security, giving it a higher priority than preparing for military conflict and pledging [pounds sterling]500million to bolster defences against such attacks.

Some suggest that yesterday's announcement, in advance of today's detailed briefing on defence cuts, amounts to defence on the cheap. After all, the computer programmers employed to protect us from cyber attack are cheaper than new helicopters.

But most experts warn that the threat is very real.

'A modern nation state could be brought to a halt quickly, probably by attacking the power grid,' says Professor John McDermid, a computer security expert at York University. 'Britain's enemies could attack 20,000 times. And they would need to succeed only once.' Iain Lobban, director of the government communications headquarters (GCHQ) said last week that 1,000 cyber attacks are being detected each month on government networks, sent by unknown hackers who could range from individuals with a grudge to terrorist groups and entire countries.

Risks He says the emails, often containing damaging viruses and other software, have already caused 'significant disruption' -- and while government agencies have so far minimised the damage, sooner or later we will be hit with something they don't catch in time.

Our vulnerability is a sideeffect of the explosive growth of computer networks in the past 30 years. As recently as the 1980s, electricity companies, banks and the military mostly ran self-contained computer networks quarantined from the outside world. As late as 1995, MI6 had to depend on a single, standalone PC in headquarters to access the internet.

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Why Britain IS Desperately Vulnerable to Cyber Terror; No Food. No Fuel. No Power. Science Editor MICHAEL HANLON Imagines the Fallout from an Attack on the Computer Networks on Which We've Become Dangerously Reliant
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