UK-Ireland collaboration crucial to stop cyber threats

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Lindy Cameron, CEO of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), is highlighting the importance of collaboration between the UK and Ireland on cyber security issues and threats, in a speech delivered virtually to an audience at the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) in Dublin today (25 June).

Cameron, who like her predecessor Ciaran Martin hails from Northern Ireland, described the relationship between London and Dublin as a source of great strength, and crucial in combating shared threats, including those posed by malicious actors and nation states operating in cyber space.

“The governments of both the UK and Ireland have been clear that they will not tolerate malicious cyber activity, and we have, and will, publicly call out state-level attacks,” said Cameron.

“State-sponsored cyber activity represents one of the most malicious strategic threats to the national interests in both the UK and Ireland. It is hugely important. Tracking and defending the UK from our most sophisticated adversaries represents much of our core business, usually working to support victims behind the scenes.

“State actors are a reality in cyber space. Four nation states – China, Russia, North Korea and Iran – have been a constant presence in recent years. And as I’ve said before, we face a determined, aggressive Russia, seeking traditional political advantage by new, high-tech means.”

Referencing the UK government’s growing focus on cyber security and its ambitions to play a global role in setting the “rules of the road” for cyber space, Cameron said the UK needed to work with allies and close partners against the shared threat, and work to a shared vision for the future. She welcomed Ireland’s presence on the UN Security Council – which it took up for the 2021-22 term on 1 January 2021 – and its upcoming presidency of the same.

“Ireland will assume the Security Council presidency in September and we have every confidence you will lead with a commitment to peacekeeping and climate security, in line with both the Taoiseach and our own prime minister’s priorities,” she said.

Cameron went on to discuss how elements of critical national infrastructure (CNI), shared between Ireland and Northern Ireland – such as the Dublin to Belfast railway – were an attractive target for cyber criminals.

She also discussed the Conti ransomware attack on the Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland – the consequences of which are still unfolding several weeks later, and will continue to do so, praising Dublin for refusing to negotiate with, or pay a ransom to, the gang.

“The government was quite rightly clear that – even by criminal standards – this had crossed a line,” she said. “I would like to praise the Irish response not to pay the ransom. Cyber criminals are out to make money, and the more times a method is successful, the more times it will be used.

“It is important that we do all we can to ensure this is not a criminal model that yields returns. The government’s strong action of refusing to pay will likely deter ransomware operators from further attacks on health sector organisations – in Ireland or elsewhere.”

Cameron described the Conti gang’s decision to voluntarily provide the HSE with the decryption keys for the ransomware as a “public relations move” designed to “lessen criticism”.

As of 23 June, the HSE said that three-quarters of its servers had been decrypted, and 70% of devices have now returned to active use. However, appearing before the Oireachtas Committee on Health, the service’s CEO Paul Reid said it would take months to fix completely, with costs running to over €100m (£85.9m) in the short to medium term, and probably much more in the long term.

According to RTÉ, the HSE now proposes to establish its own security operations centre and will begin a procurement process later this year.


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