#Infosec18: Nation State Hacking is Biggest Change in Cyber-Threat Landscape

The former director general of GCHQ Robert Hannigan took to the keynote stage at Infosecurity Europe 2018 to discuss the evolving cyber-threat landscape, describing how – whilst changes in sophistication of lone actors and cyber-criminals are increasing the challenges of keeping data secure – it is the rise of nation state attacks that is “possibly the biggest change in the last couple of years.”

Hannigan said that risks surrounding nation state attacks have always been an area of concern to some extent, but recent changes in political intent have made them a real and significant issue in today’s landscape.

He pointed to activities in Iran and Russia as examples. “Iran have taken a very collaborated approach to cyber-activity, most publically through the DDoS attacks on banks a few years ago” Hannigan said, whilst at the higher end of sophistication, Russia have put a lot of investment into cyber-activity in the last 10 years.

“The biggest change [with Russia] is intent; the kind of prepositioning of a cyber-attack could go all sorts of ways,” he explained, “but if your geopolitical intent changes and you want to take risks and you don’t mind being found out and want to be destructive, that suddenly becomes very dangerous. I think that is what has changed for the West, not just online but in other areas in the last few years with Russia.

“The fact that both the US and UK governments have been talking about finding Russia on utility energy company networks and the infrastructure of the internet is really important and worrying, because of the intent.”

Nation state activities are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and more brazen, Hannigan added, and the real concern when it comes to nation state attacks is that the “risk of miscalculation could be huge."

“We haven’t yet seen anybody killed or seriously injured as a result of a cyber-attack, but if you start to tamper with industrial control systems, with health networks, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt and ultimately killed,” he said.

However, to conclude, Hannigan pointed out that 80% to 90% of cyber-attacks, regardless of their sophistication level, can be prevented or mitigated by doing the basics right.

“We should keep doing the basics,” he added, “and at a national level I’m really delighted with the progress the NCSC has made with active cyber-defense.”

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