Watch out FLAME – Malvern’s new ‘dirty lab’ is open…

Francis Maude with MP Harriet Baldwin and Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones opening the ‘dirty lab’ at Malvern. Picture Worcester News

As members of the Malvern Cyber Security Network, we were lucky enough to be invited to the opening of the country’s first ‘dirty lab’ on Friday (25th May 2012). The lab was opened by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who was accompanied by Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, Special Minister to Business on Cyber Security, and has been set up by local companies, including our very own Trusted Partner encription, to help test IT systems and prevent one of the 21st Century’s biggest threats – cyber attacks.

Commenting ahead of the trip, Francis Maude said, “My visit to Malvern is an excellent opportunity to see and hear about the work local business and SME’s are undertaking. Government is working to raise awareness of the potential cyber threat to business reputation, revenues and intellectual property. But cyber security also offers huge benefits for business and is an important growth area for our economy.”

Following the official opening, the Minister and Baroness Neville-Jones joined members of the Networking Group to discuss issues affecting SME’s including how Government would encourage an integrated approach to cyber security with business and academia, how SME’s access the £650m budget being made available to combat cyber security threats, barriers to procurement for SME’s delivering innovative products and services to mitigate against cyber attacks and the best way for SME’s to gain information on cyber security policy and guidance. All too soon the interesting discussions came to a close but it was clear that the Minister and Baroness have a number of areas they both want to develop, and we hope their next visit will be a round table discussion to move things to another level and provide two-way dialogue on what is clearly a key national threat in an increasingly technological world..

The opening of the lab was made all the more apt with news on Monday 28th May of the latest cyber threat to be discovered – Flame. According to researchers, Flame is a complex targeted cyber attack that has collected private data from countries such as Israel and Iran. Having only recently been detected, it is believed to have started its attack in 2010. This new threat appears not to cause physical damage, but once a system is infected it collects huge amounts of sensitive information by beginning a complex set of operations, including sniffing the network traffic, taking screenshots, recording audio conversations and intercepting the keyboard etc….

The United Nations has only today (30/5/12) stated that it is to issue a warning to governments about the Flame worm, which it perceives to be the “most serious warning ever” as the worm could possibly attack critical infrastructure.

The attack is thought to be state sponsored but its exact origins remain unknown. So why are these attacks such a threat and how can the Malvern Cyber Security Group (MSCG) help UK businesses protect itself?

Tony McDowell, Managing Director of encription explains.

“Threats, like the recently discovered Flame malware, have been all too apparent within commercial and Government systems over the past two decades.  The increasing sophistication of malware, such as Flame, is of concern to all individuals and organisations; in fact the size and sophistication of Flame takes malware to a new level.  Although this malware appears to have been targeted at specific organisations it is only a matter of time before it  will be available on the open market., as has historically been the case when exploit writers are continually developing new attacks.  This is one of the key reasons for the formation of the MCSG , to assist all organisations in combating cyber attacks and theft”.

The lab will not only be used for research purposes into understanding cyber attacks such as Flame, their origins, modus operandi and complexities but also to provide training for people learning cyber defence techniques.

It is clear that if we can understand the threats we can stay one-step ahead in protecting UK businesses from cyber attack.  We look forward to bringing you news on success stories at the lab in the future.

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