UK and US cyber security leaders meet to discuss shared threats and opportunities

National Cyber Security Centre CEO and Director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency met in London.

Top cyber security officials from the UK and US affirmed their commitment to tackling ransomware in their first official face-to-face engagement.

Lindy Cameron, CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre – a part of GCHQ – met with Jen Easterly, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to discuss their organisations’ priorities, including combatting ransomware.

During their bi-lateral meeting in London they reflected on the impact of ransomware attacks this year and the need for industry collaboration to complement government’s operational efforts against ransomware.

NCSC Chief Executive Lindy Cameron said:

“It was a pleasure to host Director Easterly for our first in-person bi-lateral meeting to discuss the critical issues in cyber security today.

“Ransomware is a serious and growing security threat that cuts across borders, and it is important for us to maintain a continuing dialogue with our closest ally to tackle it.”

The issue of gender diversity was also on the agenda, with both agreeing that more needed to be done to remove barriers to entry into the profession for women and girls.

They discussed the NCSC’s CyberFirst Girls Competition, which aims to get more girls interested in cyber through fun but challenging team events for teenagers, and CISA’s ongoing commitment to expanding opportunities for young women and girls to pursue careers in cyber security and technology and closing the gender gap that exists in these fields.

The two leaders also discussed government collaboration with industry, including the NCSC’s Industry 100 scheme and CISA’s Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative.

The Industry 100 scheme has integrated public and private sector talent in the UK to pool their knowledge to tackle key cyber security issues. The Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative has similarly bought American public and private sector entities together to unify crisis action planning and defend against threats to U.S. critical infrastructure.

UK and allies publish advice to fix global cyber vulnerabilities

Advice on countering the most publicly known—and often dated—software vulnerabilities has been published for private and public sector organisations worldwide.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have published a joint advisory highlighting 30 vulnerabilities routinely exploited by cyber actors in 2020 and those being exploited in 2021.
In 2021, malicious cyber actors continued to target vulnerabilities in perimeter-type devices. Today’s advisory lists the vendors, products, and CVEs, and recommends that organisations prioritise patching those listed.
NCSC Director for Operations, Paul Chichester, said:
“We are committed to working with allies to raise awareness of global cyber weaknesses – and present easily actionable solutions to mitigate them.
“The advisory published today puts the power in every organisation’s hands to fix the most common vulnerabilities, such as unpatched VPN gateway devices.
“Working with our international partners, we will continue to raise awareness of the threats posed by those that seek to cause harm."
As well as alerting organisations to the threat, this advisory directs public and private sector partners to the support and resources available to mitigate and remediate these vulnerabilities.
Guidance for organisations on how to protect themselves in cyberspace can be found on the NCSC website. Our 10 Steps to Cyber Security collection provides a summary of advice for security and technical professionals.
On the mitigation of vulnerabilities, network defenders are encouraged to familiarise themselves with guidance on establishing an effective vulnerability management process. Elsewhere, the NCSC’s Early Warning Service also provides vulnerability and open port alerts.
CISA Executive Assistant Director for Cybersecurity, Eric Goldstein, said:
“Organisations that apply the best practices of cyber security, such as patching, can reduce their risk to cyber actors exploiting known vulnerabilities in their networks.
“Collaboration is a crucial part of CISA’s work and today we partnered with ACSC, NCSC and FBI to highlight cyber vulnerabilities that public and private organisations should prioritise for patching to minimise risk of being exploited by malicious actors.”
FBI Cyber Assistant Director, Bryan Vorndran, said:
“The FBI remains committed to sharing information with public and private organisations in an effort to prevent malicious cyber actors from exploiting vulnerabilities.
“We firmly believe that coordination and collaboration with our federal and private sector partners will ensure a safer cyber environment to decrease the opportunity for these actors to succeed.”
Head of the ACSC, Abigail Bradshaw CSC, said:
“This guidance will be valuable for enabling network defenders and organisations to lift collective defences against cyber threats.
“This advisory complements our advice available through cyber.gov.au and underscores the determination of the ACSC and our partner agencies to collaboratively combat malicious cyber activity.”

NCSC CEO warns that ransomware is key cyber threat

The chief of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre said ransomware was the key threat facing the UK and urged the public and business to take it seriously.
Speaking virtually to an audience at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Annual Security Lecture, Lindy Cameron warned of the “cumulative effect” of failing to properly deal with the rising threat.
She also revealed the threat faced by think tanks, noting that it is “almost certain” that the primary cyber threat they face is from nation state espionage groups, and it is highly likely that they seek to gain strategic insights into government policy and commercially sensitive information.
The CEO of the NCSC – which is a part of GCHQ – also warned that for the vast majority of UK citizens and organisations, the primary key threat is not state actors but cyber criminals.
She highlighted the importance of building organisational cyber resilience which, in combination with government capabilities and law enforcement action, is the most effective way to counter threats in cyberspace.
Lindy Cameron said:
“For most UK citizens and businesses, and indeed for the vast majority of critical national infrastructure providers and government service providers, the primary key threat is not state actors but cyber criminals, and in particular the threat of ransomware.
“While government is uniquely able to disrupt and deter our adversaries, it is network defenders in industry, and the steps that all organisations and citizens are taking that are protecting the UK from attacks, day in, day out.
“The protection they provide is crucial to the digital transformation of the economy, and every organisation, large and small, has a role to play.”
On the recent rise in ransomware attacks, Lindy Cameron noted that the ecosystem is evolving through the Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) model, whereby ransomware variants and commodity listings are available off the shelf for a one-off payment or a share of the profits.
As the RaaS model has become increasingly successful, with criminal groups securing significant ransom payments from large profitable businesses who cannot afford to lose their data to encryption or to suffer the down time while their services are offline, the market for ransomware has become increasingly “professional”.
Elsewhere, Lindy Cameron also set out the context of the Integrated Review and forthcoming cyber strategy, highlighting the need to better integrate our security, economic, technical, and diplomatic capabilities in support of shared national objectives.
She outlined how our allies and adversaries alike are betting on cyber, and that the UK needs to continue setting the pace.

NCSC’s Early Warning service

Early Warning helps organisations investigate cyber attacks on their network by notifying them of malicious activity that has been detected in information feeds.
Early Warning is a free NCSC service designed to inform your organisation of potential cyber attacks on your network, as soon as possible. The service uses a variety of information feeds from the NCSC, trusted public, commercial and closed sources, which includes several privileged feeds which are not available elsewhere.
Early Warning filters millions of events that the NCSC receives every day and, using the IP and domain names you provide, correlates those which are relevant to your organisation into daily notifications for your nominated contacts via the Early Warning portal.
Organisations will receive the following high level types of alerts:
- Incident Notifications – This is activity that suggests an active compromise of your system.
For example: A host on your network has most likely been infected with a strain of malware.
- Network Abuse Events – This may be indicators that your assets have been associated with malicious or undesirable activity.
For example: A client on your network has been detected scanning the internet.
- Vulnerability and Open Port Alerts – These are indications of vulnerable services running on your network, or potentially undesired applications are exposed to the internet.
For example: You have a vulnerable application, or you have an exposed Elasticsearch service.
Cyber security researchers will often uncover malicious activity on the internet or discover weaknesses in organisations security controls, and release this information in information feeds. In addition, the NCSC or its partners may uncover information that is indicative of a cyber security compromise on a network. The NCSC will collate this information and use this data to alert your organisation about potential attacks on your network.
Full details at www.ncsc.gov.uk/information/early-warning-service

Ransomware: What board members should know and what they should be asking their technical experts

Ransomware is the subject of this spotlight topic for board members, building on the guidance given in the Cyber Security Toolkit for Boards.
The impact of a ransomware attack on an organisation can be devastating. So what should board members be doing to ensure that their organisation is prepared for such a ransomware attack, and in the best possible place to respond quickly ?
This blog, part of the Cyber Security Toolkit for Boards, explains the basics of ransomware, and suggests relevant questions that board members might want to ask their technical experts to help drive greater cyber resilience against these types of attack.
Why should board members concern themselves with ransomware?
Cyber security is a board-level responsibility, and board members should be specifically asking about ransomware as these attacks are becoming both more frequent[1] and more sophisticated.
Ransomware attacks can be massively disruptive to organisations, with victims requiring a significant amount of recovery time to re-enable critical services. These events can also be high profile in nature, with wide public and media interest.
What do board members need to know about ransomware?
Board members don’t need to be able to distinguish their Trickbots and their Ryuks, but knowing the basics of how ransomware works will mean they can have constructive conversations with their technical experts on the subject.
So what do you need to know about ransomware?
- Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents you from accessing your computer (or the data stored on it). Typically, the data is encrypted (so that you can’t use it), but it may also be stolen, or released online.
- Most ransomware we see now is ‘enterprise-wide’. This means it’s not just one user or one machine that is affected but often the whole network. Once they’ve accessed your systems, attackers typically take some time moving around, working out where critical data is saved and how backups are made and stored. Armed with this knowledge the attacker can encrypt the entire network at the most critical moment.
- The attacker will then usually make contact with the victim using an untraceable email address (or an anonymous web page), and demand payment to unlock your computer and/or access your data. Payment is invariably demanded in a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin and may involve negotiation with the humans behind the ransomware (who have spent time in your organisation’s networks assessing how much you might be willing or able to pay).
- However, even if you do pay the ransom, there is no guarantee that you will get access to your computer, or your files.
- We have also seen cyber criminals threaten to release sensitive data stolen from the network during the attack if the ransom is not paid.
- The government strongly advises against paying ransoms to criminals, including when targeted by ransomware. There are practical reasons for this (see question 4) and also concern that paying ransoms likely encourages cyber criminals to continue such attacks.
Full details at https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/blog-post/what-board-members-should-know-about-ransomware

British tech startups offered help to keep innovations secure

New guidance from the NCSC and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) to help fledgling technical companies consider key questions around security.

UK startups working on world-leading emerging technology are being offered new guidance to help secure their innovations from a range of security risks.

The guidance from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – a part of GCHQ – and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) helps fledgling companies working in emerging technologies consider key questions around security.

Launched during the NCSC’s flagship CYBERUK event, the guidance encourages companies to take steps to strengthen their defences against criminals, competitors and hostile state actors.

UK companies working in emerging technologies are likely to be a particularly attractive target to a wide range of actors, including those backed by foreign states seeking technological advancement.

The ‘Secure Innovation’ package of guidance was developed in consultation with emerging technology companies and highlights the importance of laying strong security foundations that can evolve as startups grow, in a cost-effective and proportionate manner.

NCSC Technical Director Dr Ian Levy said:

“The UK has one of the world’s best startup ecosystems, which makes companies working in emerging technologies a target for hostile actors.

“That’s why alongside CPNI we have created bespoke guidance which aims to show these companies what good physical and cyber security looks like and how to implement it.

“Putting good security in place now is a sound investment for these companies, helping lower the risks of future disruption and enhancing their attractiveness to investors.”

The Director of CPNI said:

“UK start-ups and scaleups raised record investment in 2020, closing nearly £11billion in venture-capital funding, despite the obvious challenges. A large part of this success story is how open and engaging UK businesses have always been with their international partners. As new markets continue to emerge, so will the potential threats to companies’ intellectual property and ideas at the hands of hostile states, criminals, and competitors.

“Developed in partnership between CPNI and NCSC and aimed at companies in emerging technology, Secure Innovation provides a holistic approach to all aspects of security, ensuring that good cyber principles are not undermined by physical, and people risks which could threaten the success of a start-up if not managed well from the outset.

“Based on CPNI and NCSC’s technical expertise in protective security, this guidance provides the tools to establish simple, low cost and pragmatic security-minded behaviours from the outset, making protecting their innovation and ingenuity as easy as possible.”

The Secure Innovation guidance, aimed at founders or chief executives of emerging technology startups, explains how security can be integrated into an organisation’s culture and advocates for security focused risk management around supply chains, IT networks, information, people and physical security, cloud computing and more.

CISA releases new 5G paper with NSAcyber and ODNIgov: Potential Threat Vectors to 5G Infrastructure

Securing Critical Infrastructure operations means ensuring cybersecurity practices are incorporated within 5G.
The deployment of 5G has begun, and with it, a wealth of benefits that has the potential to impact every aspect of our lives and work. With faster connectivity, ultra-low latency, greater network capacity, 5G will redefine the operations of critical infrastructure activities from the plant floor to the cloud. It will enable large-scale connections, capabilities, and services that can pave the way for smart cities, remote surgery, autonomous vehicles, and other emergent technologies. However, these capabilities also make 5G networks an attractive target for criminals and foreign adversaries to exploit for valuable information and intelligence and even global disruption.
To secure the full scope of 5G use cases, it is critical that strong cybersecurity practices are incorporated within the design and development of 5G technology. In March 2020, the White House developed the National Strategy to Secure 5G, which outlines how the Nation will safeguard 5G infrastructure domestically and abroad. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as part of the Enduring Security Framework (ESF)—a cross-sector, public-private working group—initiated an assessment of the cybersecurity and vulnerabilities to 5G infrastructure. The ESF established the 5G Threat Model Working Panel which developed this paper, Potential Threat Vectors to 5G Infrastructure, to enhance understanding of the threats posed to 5G adoption.
The Working Panel reviewed existing bodies of public and private research and analysis to identify and generate an aggregated list of known and potential threats to the 5G environment. From that list, they identified three primary threat vectors areas—Policy and Standards, Supply Chain, and 5G Systems Architecture—and within these threat vectors, 11 sub-threats were identified as additional points of vulnerability for threat actors to exploit (i.e., open standards, counterfeit parts, and multi-access edge computing). This paper represents the beginning of the Working Panel’s thinking on the types of risks introduced by 5G adoption in the Unites States, and not the culmination of it.
With the promise of connectivity between billions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, it is critical that government and industry collaborate to ensure that cybersecurity is prioritized within the design and development of 5G technology.
https://www.cisa.gov/publication/5g-potential-threat-vectors

US and UK agencies release cybersecurity advisory on recently modified tactics by Russian intelligence agency

The FBI, National Security Agency and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency collaborated with the United Kingdom's National Cyber Security Centre to release a Joint Cybersecurity Advisory examining tactics, techniques, and procedures associated with Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). The advisory provides additional insights on SVR activity including exploitation activity following the SolarWinds Orion supply chain compromise.
CISA released a related document, Fact Sheet: Russian SVR Activities Related to SolarWinds Compromise, that summarizes three joint publications focused on SVR activities related to the SolarWinds Orion compromise.
SVR cyber operators appear to have reacted to prior reporting by changing their TTPs in an attempt to avoid further detection and remediation efforts by network defenders.

NCSC releases cyber security advice for agriculture sector

Farmers will for the first time have access to tailor-made cyber security advice published in response to the growing use of technology in the agriculture sector.
The new Cyber Security for Farmers guidance from the National Cyber Security Centre – a part of GCHQ – and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) will provide the farming community with the tools and information it needs to protect itself from the most common cyber attacks, including scam emails and malicious software.
Businesses in the agricultural sector are increasingly taking advantage of the benefits modern farming technology can provide, such as GPS, remote sensors, and farm management software.
But with official statistics showing a rise in reports of cyber attacks against the farming community, and in the wake of well-documented incidents such as spoof farm machinery adverts leaving farmers thousands of pounds out of pocket, the NCSC and NFU are urging the sector to act on the new guidance.
Sarah Lyons, NCSC Deputy Director for Economy and Society, said: “Technology plays a huge role in modern farming and offers many benefits that will help the industry to thrive in the 21st century.
“We are teaming up with the NFU to share best online practice to the sector, as an increased use of technology also sees an increased risk of being targeted by cyber criminals.
“Staying safe online might seem daunting, but the actionable advice in ‘Cyber Security for Farmers’ will help the sector to stay as safe as possible while embracing the latest technology.”
The advice, which can be found in full on the NCSC’s website, includes guidance on
- protecting your farm against malware;
- keeping devices up to date;
- where to go for help;
- backing up data, and;
- dealing with scam emails, text messages, and phone calls.
Stuart Roberts, Deputy President at the NFU, said: “Rural crime is a huge issue for farm businesses and we rightly look to protect our farm buildings, machinery and our livestock. However, we all live and work in a digital world and we must be conscious of the threats this can bring to our businesses.
“It’s incredibly important that farmers take this seriously, which is why we’ve teamed up with the experts in the National Cyber Security Centre to help produce this guidance. I would urge all farmers to read this advice and take the necessary steps to reinforce their cyber security and protect their farm business.”
The NCSC is committed to raising cyber security and resilience across every part of the UK, and this includes supporting businesses, academia, and the charity sector, as well as the public through the Cyber Aware campaign.

NCSC defends UK from more than 700 cyber attacks while supporting national pandemic response

THE National Cyber Security Centre defended the UK from an average of 60 attacks per month during a year which saw its resources proactively focused on the coronavirus response, the organisation’s latest Annual Review revealed today.
The NCSC, which is a part of GCHQ, handled 723 incidents between 1 September 2019 and 31 August 2020, with around 200 related to coronavirus. In the previous three years since launching, they supported an average of 602 incidents annually (590 in 2017, 557 in 2018 and 658 in 2019).
The growth this year reflects ongoing NCSC efforts to proactively identify and mitigate threats, tips the organisation receives from its extensive network of partners and reports from victims themselves.
In a year heavily influenced by the pandemic, the review highlights the NCSC’s support for the healthcare sector, such as scanning more than 1 million NHS IP addresses for vulnerabilities leading to the detection of 51,000 indicators of compromise, and working with international allies to raise awareness of the threat of vaccine research targeting.
With cyber criminals looking to exploit public fear over the pandemic with coronavirus-related online scams, the NCSC and the City of London Police also launched the Suspicious Email Reporting Service, which received 2.3 million reports from the public in its first four months – resulting in thousands of malicious websites being taken down.
The NCSC also provided the technical assurances during the creation of the Virtual Parliament, as well as producing a wide range of advice for businesses and individuals switching to home working as a result of the pandemic.
A new remote working scenario was added to the NCSC’s ‘Exercise in a Box’ programme. The initiative, which allows people to test their cyber defences against realistic scenarios was used by people in 125 countries this year.