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Cybersecurity should be a national security issue

by Kaelan Joyce

Society’s dependency on technology has rapidly increased over the last few years, to such an extent that nowadays our daily routines very much revolve around interconnected devices. Devices that have undoubtedly enabled us unparalleled development in the exchange of information and communications but that have also exposed us to serious new threats.

Gibraltar has for decades enjoyed low crime rates but now cybercriminals once only prevalent in Hollywood movies are on our doorstep. Scammers, online child predators and state funded hacks are only a click away and we must be prepared.
The RGP is conscious of the problem and have launched an awareness campaign via different media channels but as the number of interconnected devices expands and the attack surface multiplies expeditiously, their resources are surely being stretched beyond existing capacity. Even when facing these challenges though, the RGP High Tech Crime Unit has managed to take decisive action in the past against child pornography networks and malware attacks that were using Gibraltar as one of their intermediary points.

Cyberspace makes it cheap and easy for criminals to operate from anywhere in the world under the cloak of anonymity. This makes it an extremely low risk and lucrative business where minimal investment is required to rake in maximum profits, where strangers across the globe collude in virtual cities to build business empires that revolve around trickery and theft. Where increasingly sophisticated criminal organisations are targeting businesses across the globe and emptying their coffers, such as the phishing attacks that regularly hit our shores and that in 2015 managed to siphon off over one million pounds from local businesses. It is a fast paced ever changing environment loosely connected by intangibles and needs to be tackled head on, there is certainly no room for apathy or ostrich syndrome.

Furthermore, Gibraltar’s unique geopolitical situation makes it a prime target for state sponsored attacks, we can all think of countries that would benefit from anticipating our government’s next move on key topics or discrediting our reputation on the world stage.
Sensitive information could be leaked or errors remotely introduced into our networks, causing havoc on our critical infrastructure, financial and public services. These are attacks that are occurring on a global scale and it will only be a matter of time until they hit us (let us hope that our systems have already not been compromised). Therefore recognising these threats without further delay and working on how to address them should be of the utmost importance for us as a nation.

We must evolve to deal with the changes that are coming our way and start to take a more proactive approach, which will enable us to be one step ahead of cyberattacks. Refusal to acknowledge such changes or implement measures to mitigate the threats that are forthcoming will prove costly not only financially but also to our reputation as a safe place where to conduct business.
The UK knows this and have recently launched its first National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ, the British Intelligence Agency), which focuses on taking an active part on the development of cybersecurity in the UK, raising awareness, preparing businesses and training the experts of tomorrow. Children as young as 11 are encouraged to get involved in the world of cybersecurity and teenagers are challenged to compete in National events, both in the UK and across Europe. These are not just games though, the GCHQ offers finalists in these ‘wargames’ sponsorship throughout their university education, paid summer placements and assured years of employment after they leave university.

The world is changing and Gibraltar must adapt, we must not only encourage but also nurture local efforts that strive to improve our preparedness as a country on the cyber threat front. For example, the CyberCenturion workshops started by Mr Harrison at Bayside Comprehensive School and ran by Mr Mora and his colleagues (attended by children from our secondary education schools) is a great initiative as are the recent tech\cybersecurity seminars, which were delivered at the Gibraltar College of Further Education (organised by Mr Cumbo) to A Level Students from all schools as part of their new curriculum that aspires to add more weight to security challenges.

Some will have you believe that the only way to tackle our current deficiency in such skill sets is by importing the expertise required to suppress these threats, but I beg to differ. If Gibraltar has shown something over the years, it is that when we decide to set our sights on new challenges we have the resolve and the local talent pool to succeed in just about anything. The local team who, with just a year of training won the UK-wide CyberCenturion competition last year and the recent successes of the RGP High Tech Unit are proof of such a concept.

Furthermore, dependency on foreigners for such crucial matters is not only short sighted but also a potential threat to National Security (for obvious reasons). What we need to do is invest in our youth and assist those willing to develop their skills in such areas. This will enable us to gain the knowledge and relevant experience required to keep Gibraltar and its citizens safe.

In a fast paced, dynamic and technology driven world we must become the masters of our destiny. As William Jennings Bryan once said, “destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

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