MP calls for cybersecurity Tsar

Mark Pritchard MP says the UK needs a national cybercrime agency to combat criminals and terrorists who might attack critical parts of the UK infrastructure

An MP has called for the creation of a 'Cybersecurity Tsar' and a national agency to combat the growing threat of cybercrime.

Mark Pritchard, Conservative MP for The Wrekin, used an adjournment debate last Wednesday to call for more action to address the impact that cybercrime may have on the UK's critical national infrastructure (CNI).

The agency should be a unified national cybersecurity agency, which would be a single point of cybersecurity information, guidance and advice for the nation," Pritchard argued.

"The rise in aggressive viruses and cybersecurity threats is a clear and present danger to Britain's national security. It is also a threat to Britain's economic well-being," Pritchard claimed.

The MP also claimed that the UK's CNI was threatened by terrorist organisations.

"It is interesting that the imprisoned al-Qaeda members have admitted that their organisation has been attempting to — and no doubt is still attempting to — develop cyberthreats to strike western governments," said Pritchard.

The CNI includes energy, transport, finance, telecoms and aviation, which constantly rely on an exchange of information, according to Pritchard, who suggested that the nuclear industry could be a target.

"A penetration of any of those networks would be a serious threat to national security, not least when it comes to the potential to access Britain's 14 nuclear power stations," said Pritchard.

However, some security experts — including Bruce Schneier — aren't convinced that cyberterrorism is a serious threat.

Pritchard also claimed that cyber attacks also had a detrimental effect on consumer confidence. He quoted a figure of 200,000 cases of Internet-based identity fraud, at a cost to the UK economy of at least £16m. Online credit fraud has also increased by 29 percent, he added.

In response, the government said that Pritchard was making sensible suggestions, and stressed the need for secure networks, but said it had no plans to regulate Internet use.

"It is not the government's role to manage the Internet, or regulate how business is conducted through it," said Barry Gardiner, parliamentary under-secretary of State for Trade and Industry. "There is a role for government and business to work together in a non-regulatory way," he added.

The government also pointed to its creation of the National Infrastructure Security Coordination Centre and said it had recently allocated £30m to protect government information.

But speaking last week, Schneier argued that the perceived threat from cyberterrorism and espionage is overblown.

"I think that the terrorist threat is over-hyped, and the criminal threat is under-hyped," Schneier told ZDNet UK.

"I hear people talk about the risks to critical infrastructure [CNI] from cyberterrorism, but the risks come primarily from criminals. It's just criminals at the moment aren't as 'sexy' as terrorists," he added.