The United States and United Kingdom will conduct joint cyber “war games” against each country’s banks, financial institutions and other critical infrastructure in order to improve defenses against cyber attacks.
The announcement coincided with UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit for two days of talks with President Obama. The leaders also co-authored an article, We Won’t Let the Voice of Freedom be Muzzled, on terrorism and security for the British daily newspaper The Times.
The first exercise in the cyber war games, a staged attack on the financial sector, will take place later this year and will involve the Bank of England and commercial banks, targeting the City of London and Wall Street, and will be followed by further exercises to test critical national infrastructure.
Inaddition, a UK-US collaboration between government and security agencies will establish a joint cyber cell, with an operating presence in each country. Aimed at strengthening mutual cyber defenses, it will bring together agencies and law enforcement and allow staff from each agency to be co-located, enabling information and data to be shared at pace and at greater scale.
Funding will also be made available to train the next generation of cyber experts. The UK’s National Audit Office warned in 2013 that a lack of skilled workers was hampering the fight against cyber crime. And at the end of December 2014, the FBI launched a campaign to hire experts to become “cyber special agents."
Before leaving for the United States, Cameron said in relation to cyber attacks that there should be no "means of communication" which "we cannot read," a comment which is likely to spark debate from privacy groups.
The prime minister is also expected to talk to the US president about getting companies such as Google and Facebook to allow governments to see encrypted messages. It is important, however, that the smaller social networking sites are not overlooked as these are just as popular among hackers and would-be foreign fighters.
In their joint article for The Times, Obama and Cameron wrote about the special relationship between the two countries as the foundation for shared security and prosperity.
“Together we defeated the Nazis and hunted down the core Al Qaeda leadership,” they wrote. “We will continue to stand together against those who threaten our values and our way of life. When the freedoms that we treasure came under a brutal attack in Paris, the world responded with one voice. Along with our French allies, we have made clear to those who think they can muzzle freedom of speech and expression with violence that our voices will only grow louder.”
“Whether we are facing lone fanatics or terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State (ISIL) or Boko Haram, we will not be cowed by extremists. We will defeat these barbaric killers and their distorted ideology, which tries to justify the murder of innocents, whether children attending school in Peshawar, or girls forced to become suicide bombers in northern Nigeria.”
“There are more than 1 billion Muslims in the world, the vast majority of whom are sickened by the evil these terrorists claim to perpetrate in the name of Islam. The United States and Britain will continue to work closely with all those who believe in peace and tolerance. The terrorists know only how to destroy, but together we can do something infinitely more powerful: build security, strengthen justice and advance peace.”
On the subject of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, they wrote, “We will continue to stand up to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine. If we allow such fundamental breaches of international law to go unchecked, we will all suffer from the instability that would follow. Our strong and united response has sent an unmistakable message that the international community will not stand by as Russia attempts to destabilize Ukraine.”
During Cameron’s visit, he and Obama are also expected to discuss the Ebola crisis and the possibility of an international swift response epidemic team.
As the UK government steps up its efforts to protect British businesses from cyber attacks, GCHQ announced the re-issue of 10 Steps to Cyber Security, providing updated guidance on the practical steps that organizations can take to improve the security of their networks and the information carried on them.
To accompany the guidance, GCHQ is also publishing the new paper, Common Cyber Attacks: Reducing the Impact, which will provide an overview of common cyber attacks, the perpetrators, their methods and capabilities. It will help organizations to understand why "10 Steps" is an effective means of protecting organizations from cyber attacks.