Cyber attack threats `could be next Pearl Harbor` for UK

Growing cyber attacks by terrorists on government computer systems in Britain could be "the next Pearl Harbor", the head of the country`s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has warned.

Last Updated: Oct 18, 2010, 21:24 PM IST

London: Growing cyber attacks by terrorists
on government computer systems in Britain could be "the next
Pearl Harbor", the head of the country`s Intelligence and
Security Committee (ISC) has warned.

Ahead of a government report that lists cyber attacks
alongside violent terrorism as the most important challenges
faced by the country, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the
ISC, said cyber attacks could pose "very massive problems".

"It`s not people hacking into private citizens`
computers. What we`re talking about is terrorists being able
to actually use cyber methods, for example, to interrupt the
National Grid to prevent proper instructions going to power
stations, which are under computer control," he told a BBC
Radio 4 programme.

Referring to the 1941 attack on Perl Harbor, Rifkind said
that`s "the kind of severity that could happen if we don`t get
it right."

The attack on US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was
a surprise military strike by the Japanese Navy that prompted
the US to declare war on Japan resulting in their entry into
World War II.

Rifkind`s claim comes as a Government report called the
National Security Strategy identifies the "growing threat" of
computer hackers to Britain as a key priority for the security
and intelligence services.

The primary threat remains al-Qaeda in Pakistan and its
associates in Somalia, Yemen and North Africa, who continue to
plan attacks against targets in Britain, the security strategy
will say.

The report, to be unveiled by Prime Minister David
Cameron, puts cyber attacks ahead of natural disasters and
military attacks from other countries in a list of the four
most pressing concerns to national security.

The report is said to be a key precursor for the
Strategic Defence and Security Review, which will explain how
Britain will defend itself against such attacks.

It will also form the basis for spending decisions to be
announced this week, including a 500-million-pound boost to
cyber defence, The Daily Telegraph reported.

That is likely to mean that British intelligence agencies
MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism
command will escape the worst of the cuts.

But the document will also highlight the threat from
cyber attacks on government infrastructure.

While not naming individual states, GCHQ, which is
responsible for cyber defence, has been concerned for some
time that states such as China and Russia are unlikely to use
conventional or nuclear weapons in an attack on Britain and
are more likely to attempt to shut down essential systems used
to run the country.

Similar attacks have been seen when Russia has been in
disputes with Estonia and Georgia, leading to problems with
their Internet and even cash machines.

PTI