[daily mail] A new breed of ‘cyber criminals’ has the capability to cause a British airliner to ‘fall out of the sky’, security sources have warned.
The computer hackers would be engaged by terror cells and hostile foreign states to crack sophisticated on- board computer systems and force a plane packed with people to crash.
They could also target critical infrastructure such as nuclear power stations and electricity supplies.
The warning of a new threat to our skies – which would avoid the need for any potential murderer to board a plane – was highlighted on the day of the publication of David Cameron’s long-awaited National Security Strategy.
The document – which says Britain is living through an ‘age of uncertainty’ – also warned of a reborn dissident threat from Irish Republicans. The IRA splinter groups rank alongside Al Qaeda sympathisers as having the potential to carry out a major terrorist ‘spectacular’.
However, the prospect of Britain being embroiled in a military conflict with another state was downgraded in the list.
But the strategy points out ‘huge’ internet-based potential risks because of the on-line dependence of Whitehall, businesses and individuals.
Liam Fox arriving in Downing Street for a Cabinet meeting
Liam Fox arriving in Downing Street for a Cabinet meeting today
Officials confirmed that these computer-generated assaults, which involve individuals creating software viruses or rogue computer programs and emails, could even bring down passenger jets. ‘We don’t want to wait until planes are falling out of the skies before we address it,’ one said.
The strategy said: ‘Attacks in cyberspace can have a potentially devastating real-world effect. Government, military, industrial and economic targets, including critical services, could feasibly be disrupted by a capable adversary.’
Last week Iain Lobban, director of the GCHQ eavesdropping centre, warned that Government computers were being targeted by 1,000 ‘malicious’ emails a month.
Mr Cameron has been persuaded to spend at least £500million to fight cyber attacks.
But the document also accepts that the danger of Al Qaeda carrying out a murderous attack on Britain using chemical, germ or nuclear weapons has ‘not diminished’.
This has paved the way for ministers to axe outdated Cold War equipment including warships, fighter jets and tanks today as part of cuts to the Ministry of Defence’s £37billion budget.
The report said: ‘During the Cold War we faced an existential threat from a state adversary through largely predictable military or nuclear means. We no longer face such predictable threats.’
It also said there needed to be ‘much more emphasis on spotting emerging risks and dealing with them before they become crises’.
The five-year strategy makes it clear that Britain does not expect to be drawn into another Afghan-type conflict. The threat is relegated to ‘Tier 2’.
The dangers of illegal migrants
A new wave of attacks by Irish splinter groups is considered a ‘Tier 1’ threat – the most serious.
Dissident Republicans have carried out several attacks in Northern Ireland this year, the most recent a car bombing in Londonderry on Monday night. The report said that Irish terror groups posed a ‘serious and persistent’ danger.
There have been 37 attacks in Ulster so far this year, compared with 22 in 2009. A senior security official confirmed that Irish dissidents were believed to be capable of carrying out a major ‘spectacular’ on the mainland but declined to discuss the intelligence behind that claim.
Al Qaeda and its affiliates still represent the ‘principal’ terrorist threat to the UK’s shores. Extremist cells and training camps have been identified in failed states such as Yemen and Somalia, as well as Iraq.
The threat of militants carrying out a machine gun assault – such as the one in Mumbai in which 175 people were murdered in 2008 – in Britain is now rated so severe that the U.S. has warned its citizens they could be in danger.
But the strategy also warned of an increasing risk from ‘lone terrorists’ who would carry out smaller attacks against ‘soft’ targets such as restaurants and bus stations.
It is the first time a National Security Strategy has drawn up a priority list of threats facing the UK.
A large-scale conventional military attack on the UK is rated only in ‘Tier 3’, alongside disruption to oil and gas supplies, a large-scale radioactive leak from a nuclear power plant and an attack on a British overseas territory, such as the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar.
Our No.1 threat: Cyber terrorists who can knock a jet out of the sky