Get ready for an Olympic summer of cyber attacks

THE headline-grabbing words of warning from MI5 chief, Jonathan Evans, on Monday night dished up a timely reminder that the City could be in for a nervous summer. The comments, detailing the levels of cyber attacks on UK industry, have raised many eyebrows.

It was the first speech from Evans in more than two years and he had stockpiled his ammunition high. In stark words, he admitted that the extent of attacks was “astonishing”. Key warnings were given to businesses, underlining the threat to the “integrity, confidentiality and availability of information”.

Courtesy of the Olympics, London is about to be given the biggest cyber test in its history. China and Russia – our traditional cyber combatants – are reportedly displaying an eager appetite to cause embarrassment during the Games. Rapid developments in Iran and parts of the Arab world pose new, difficult to assess cyber dangers. As we put our feet up to watch the sports, bigger battles may be taking place in less public arenas.

The major concern with cyber threats is their anonymity. The trusty shield to modern global security has always been the fear of reprisal. Anonymous attacks remove a dangerous barrier to our safety.

McAfee’s chief technology officer, Raj Samani, recently explained the threat posed by cyber attacks. “Sourcing an attack should be, in theory, just like dialling ‘192’. However, you now have hackers bouncing through 20 or 30 different countries. Detailing the original source can become almost impossible. When we have been able to source the paths of attacks it has always been a complex process.”

The business world can take some comfort in major government spending and specialised initiatives. An Olympics cyber coordination team will work 24 hours a day during the Games. In the event of an attack, the team is designed to ensure coordinated responses across the UK’s cyber community.

But online safety may not be the biggest cause for concern. The biggest shock may be in the palm of our hands.

Stephen Watterson, chief technology officer at leading data security specialists Company85, has been investigating a different concern: “We have our eye on potentially serious mobile issues.” Watterson thinks “a combination of factors will combine to make mobile disruption inevitable. Networks in London are already under huge pressure. The amount of data being consumed during the summer is going to break records. A large number of people will be watching Olympic events on mobile devices; combine this with people from around the world pouring into London and there is cause for alarm. Even minor disruption to mobile data will have a major impact on the City.” But Watterson says we should not be entirely despondent. He thinks “a truly dire situation has probably been averted.” But a lot is resting on “probably”.

So what would you miss more, phone calls or emails?

Justin Stoneman is a journalist.