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Defending against cyber attacks is top UK national security priority

The top four national security priorities identified in the National Security Strategy are terrorism, cybersecurity, natural disasters, and foreign wars.

Commenting on the strategy, Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee, told BBC Radio 4 that the greatest cybersecurity threat is posed by terrorists using networks to sabotage the country’s economic infrastructure.

“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. I was in the United States a few months ago and a very senior intelligence figure said to me that cyber attacks, he feared, were going to be the United States’ next Pearl Harbor. That’s the kind of severity that could happen if we don’t get it right”, Rifkind warned.

Rifkind explained that the Stuxnet worm that attacked Iranian nuclear facilities could be used against UK nuclear facilities. “The same methods could be used against us and other Western countries. Once a technology is discovered, it could work in either direction. We have to be sure that we don’t suffer massive problems as a consequences.”

Home Secretary Teresa May said that international terrorism and the threat from cyber attacks are top national security priorities for the United Kingdom. “Cyber attacks are real and pressing threats that we need to address”, she said.

David Clark, former special adviser to Robin Cook, the foreign secretary under Tony Blair, said that the National Security Strategy should have a broader focus, for example, analyzing economic and environmental security. “We have to maximize our resources to achieve our national objective. The question occurs to me, ‘What are our national objectives and are the issues we are discussing today the most significant ones in terms of affecting our future well being?’ I’m not sure that they are.”

The National Security Strategy is a prelude to the Strategic Defence and Security Review, which is scheduled to be released on Tuesday. The review is expected to detail funding that will be allocated to cybersecurity measures. A report in the The Register, citing government sources, said the UK government was planning to spend 1 billion pounds for cybersecurity.