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Could the UK's new cybercrime project transform the war online?

The UK government is today launching a fresh initiative to fight cyber threats, establishing a cross-sector alliance and new intelligence centre in London which aims to tighten the UK’s digital defences and minimise the damage caused by cyber attacks.

The Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership (CISP) was borne out of a 2012 pilot scheme known as Project Auburn, in which companies from five sectors of the economy – finance, energy, defence, pharmaceuticals, and telecoms – were encouraged to share information about the cyber attacks they faced.

Building on the collaboration, CISP incorporates members of GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), MI5, and the police forces, who will have access to the information via a secure web portal described as a “Facebook for cyber security threats,” which is also open to the selected private companies. Using this and a new centre in London, a group of 12-15 analysts will examine real-time data on who is getting targeted and what attack methods are being used.

It is hoped the sharing of intelligence across different sectors and the creation of a new response unit will help the UK react quicker to costly cyber attacks, and be able to establish better defences to protect business and government.

As an unnamed official involved in the project told the Telegraph (opens in new tab), "What the fusion cell will be doing is pulling together a single, richer intelligence picture of what is going on in cyberspace and the threats attacking the UK… What we are trying to do is get that better intelligence picture and push it out to industry in a way that they can take action on, so it is very action-orientated.”

The CISP arrives at a time when cybercrime is creeping more and more into the public conscious, and has finally become a fixture of political discourse. The financial implications of losing the battle against cyber criminals have made it an issue that cannot be ignored. With groups like the National Audit Office estimating that cybercrime costs the UK economy between £18 billion and £27 billion every year, politicians and business leaders have been shaken into rallying calls for the UK to improve its technical defences.

The impact of cyber threats on national security (opens in new tab) has also been brought into the equation, with a January report from the Defence Select Committee arguing that the UK’s current IT systems were unlikely to keep increasingly well-armed cyber terrorists at bay, and that “there needs to be more attention paid to resilience and recovery in case something does get through, because just trying to stop something that is developing very fast is not enough,” MPs said.

Moves from Whitehall to tackle cyber security this year have included the formation of a new education programme designed to teach all age groups about online threats (opens in new tab) and their ramifications, while Foreign Secretary William Hague signed the ‘Cyber Resilience Principles’ brought together at the World Economic Forum (opens in new tab), aligning the UK with over 70 companies and government bodies from 25 countries across the world, committed to protecting digital networks.

But no action has been as meaningful as the proposition announced today, and security experts will be heartened by the principle at the core of the new strategy: sharing. The term 'sharing' has started to become a little vacuous in much of the technical world due to the saturation of social media-friendly features in every online outlet - but in terms of cyber security, sharing is vital.

Vast amounts of intelligence and important data regarding the latest cyber threats never see the light of day, as organisations are (understandably) reluctant to publicise their network breaches. As a result, analysts and law enforcement agencies remain one step behind the cyber criminals, lacking the knowledge and resources to tackle emerging problems effectively.

When ITProPortal spoke to Steve Santorelli, a security researcher at Team Cymru and former detective sergeant of Scotland Yard’s Computer Crime Unit, he said the “fundamental stigma” attached to reporting data breaches in the private sector was instrumental in the downfall of law enforcement in the cyber sphere (opens in new tab). Describing the fragmented and inefficient cyber investigations overseen by governments, Santorelli claimed, “When you speak to cyber-criminals and ask them what keeps them awake at night, they worry about other criminals attacking them. They don’t worry about the police kicking down their door.”

Could the CISP and increased government action against cybercrime instill more fear in the UK’s online miscreants? Only time will tell, but those involved in the industry are already reacting positively to today's announcement. Neil Thacker, Information Security and Strategy Officer for EMEA at security firm Websense, says, “The collaboration between businesses and government to fight cybercrime can only be commended. Companies need to put aside the stigma associated with being targeted by cyber criminals and understand that it’s a reality.

“Too much security budget is still being spent on passive security solutions that allow threats to enter and leave before being acknowledged by the security team. Currently, it is too easy and too lucrative for cyber criminals to attack organisations. Initiatives such as these are vital in countering the balance and making positive steps forward for businesses,” he adds.

Top Image: Flickr (Defence Images (opens in new tab))

Will began working life as a technology journalist at ITProPortal as Senior Staff Writer. He's worked as a Copywriter, then Creative Lead across video, social, email, web and print. He is currently a Senior Content Strategist at Zone.