State body to prevent cyber attacks on networks, databases

Move is first serious response to growing threats from hackers and cyber-criminals

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten is bringing a memorandum to Cabinet aimed at ramping up the State’s capabilities to prevent potential cyber attacks on digital networks and databases. File photograph: Getty Images

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten is bringing a memorandum to Cabinet aimed at ramping up the State’s capabilities to prevent potential cyber attacks on digital networks and databases. File photograph: Getty Images

 

The Government will on Tuesday give the green light to a new body that will help buttress the State and its strategic interests from cyber attacks and hacking.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten is bringing a memorandum to Cabinet aimed at ramping up the State’s capabilities to prevent potential cyber attacks on digital networks and databases.

It represents the first serious response to emerging and growing threats from hackers and cyber-criminals.

The new body will assist Government departments and agencies, major companies, digital service providers, as well as the major energy, transport, water, and communications utilities in bolstering their defences from such attacks.

The memorandum to Government will allow the formal establishment of a National Cyber Security Centre.

The centre will be an independent office of the Department of Communications comparable to that of the Data Protection Commissioner and will be responsible for reducing vulnerability to cyber attacks, and also leading the State’s response when such incidents occur.

National Cyber Security Strategy

Its establishment formed a central recommendation of the National Cyber Security Strategy published in 2015.

Officials from the department and from the Office of Public Works are currently in discussions with University College Dublin about locating the centre on its campus, with an appropriate level of staffing.

A number of governments, the US defence forces and large organisations have been victims of large-scale cyber attacks in recent years.

While no large-scale attacks have taken place in Ireland - besides the hacking of the Fine Gael website in 2011 - there have been many instances of “phishing” attacks, where cyber-criminals post as utilities or financial institutions in order to procure by deceit the personal financial details of customers.

There have been moves at a Government and a wider EU level to begin preparations for more widescale and serious attacks from hackers, cyber-criminals, so-called “hactivists”, or those involved in cyber espionage.

Not only are Government databases and networks vulnerable. Cyber attacks can also shut down vital supplies such as electricity or public transport, or can target digital services ad broadband providers.

The move to strengthen the Government’s apparatus will also reflect a new European Union directive aimed at setting minimum capabilities for network and information security.