GCHQ calls for cyber co-operation with banks

The head of GCHQ has called for closer co-operation between the financial services sector and the UK’s intelligence services to combat the threat of cyber attacks on consumers.

Speaking at the CyberUK cyber security conference in Glasgow yesterday, Jeremy Fleming said GCHQ would seek to work more closely with banks, internet service providers (ISPs) and online platforms in order to “bake” cyber defences into business systems and increasingly “take the burden of cyber security away from the individual”.

He explained that GCHQ and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) would be leading efforts to work with industry to build a “genuinely national” cyber defence system, founded on automated response to attacks and greater online caution on the part of businesses, facilitated by “deeper cooperation with the private sector”.

Fleming explained: “We will work closely with device manufacturers and online platform providers to build security into their products and services at the design stage.

“We will work with ISPs to enhance the security of internet-connected devices in the home, and we will share intelligence with banks to enable them to alert customers close to real time.”

He outlined efforts from GCHQ, the government’s communications surveillance headquarters, to share sensitive information with banks and critical institutions in real time, enabling them to head off cyber-attack threats posed by criminals and hostile nation states.

“In the last year we have made it simple for our analysts to share time critical, secret information in a matter of seconds, with just one click, this information is being shared and action is being taken,” Fleming said.

He said that the intelligence services would continue to expand this real-time sharing capability, adding “whether it's indicators of a nation state cyber actor, details of malware used by cyber criminals or credit cards being sold on the Dark Web - we will declassify this information and get it back to those who can act on it”.

Fleming said that cyber security analysts had encountered more than 1,500 cyber security incidents classed as “significant” and said that automated defence systems - which use artificial intelligence to respond in real time to potential threats - have reduced the harm from “thousands of attacks a month”, many of which are part of the “strategic threat” the country faces from hostile states.

In addition, Fleming cited evidence of the increasing rates of cyber crime affecting consumers as shopping habits shift online. He cited recent research showing that 89 per cent of UK consumers use the internet to make online purchases, with 24 per cent doing so on a daily basis.

However, just 15 per cent of those asked said they knew how to protect themselves online, with older generations most at risk from lack of awareness of the risks. The chief concern identified was that banking details and money would be stolen, with 42 per cent believing they would fall victim to this kind of malicious activity by 2021.

Separate research from GCHQ also found password weakness was behind a large number of security breaches, with 23.2 million victims using the password 123456 to protect their accounts.

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