Recruit geeks to boost cyber-defence, says MP

4 March 2014
By Tereza Pultarova
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Geeks among cyber-reservists might be the UK's key to boost cyber-security

Geeks among cyber-reservists might be the UK's key to boost cyber-security

IT geeks in army reserves could be the solution for the UK to defend the country against growing cyber-threats, a Conservative MP said today.

Speaking in front of the Commons Defence Select Committee, Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood spoke about his concerns about the UK government’s ability to attract and be able to pay for people with relevant skills. Instead, he suggested, the army reserves should be looked at as they might present an overlooked pool of the much needed skills.

"I'm concerned that state operations don't have the funds to attract the necessary 'geeks' ... the expertise, when they are in demand in the civilian sector,” Ellwood said

"Banks and so forth, and things like that, pay huge sums of money to make sure they are able to fight off any type of cyber security (attack).

"There is a need to use the reserves, who actually have these skill sets, working in businesses, to make sure they can come along to work in the Ministry of Defence, as well."

However, Conservative chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee James Arbuthnot, despite welcoming the idea, expressed uncertainty whether sufficiently capable people are readily available within the reserves.

"I would entirely agree, but the problem may be whether there are enough reserves and whether there are enough people with those skills in the country at all," he said.

Arbuthnot's committee has been looking into the potential cyber risks, in recognition of the armed forces' dependency on information and communications technology.

"If those systems should suffer a sustained cyber-attack, we were worried that their ability to operate might be fatally compromised," he said.

Following a report by the committee, the Government had started taking action to make the UK more resilient to cyber-attacks, but Arbuthnot said there was still plenty more to be done.

In the past months, the government has established a new computer emergency response team called CERT UK, to improve the coordination of national cyber incidents and to share technical information between countries. It also set up a new cyber incidence response team in GCHQ, to help organisations recover from a cyber-security attack.

"It's extending the role for the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, the CPNI, to work with all organisations that may have a role in protecting the UK's critical systems and intellectual property, and it has agreed with regulators in essential services a set of actions to make sure that important data and systems in our critical, national infrastructure continue to be safe and resilient,” Arbuthnot said.

However, he pointed out, as the emerging cyber threat is evolving with ever increasing speed and in unpredictable directions, it is key to boost skills, mechanisms and policies to address the challenge.

Labour MP Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) questioned whether employers would be particularly happy to see their cyber experts working with the reserves due to security concerns.

"They are worried about someone who has been in our cyber reserve being able to transfer to work in another country, or to merely travel through a country perhaps on business or on holiday and actually being prone to personal attack because of the information they would hold, not only on their company but on the UK's cyber defence capability,” she said.

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