Cyber Security & the British Army

Published on the British Army’s YouTube page today. The British Army takes all threats extremely seriously and is constantly working to safeguard its cyber security. Threats are always changing and becoming increasingly sophisticated. Cyber security is vital to the welfare and defence of the nation. The British Army is constantly working to improve its cyber defences. It is able to anticipate threats, assist in significant cyber incidents and can respond to cyber attacks. It is working with other nations and creating teams of dedicated experts.

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Pakistan Chief of Army Staff in London to meet with MoD

General Qamar Bajwa of the Pakistani Army arrived in the UK on Sunday evening accompanied by Major General Asif Ghafoor at the start of a five day visit organised by the British Ministry of Defence. General Bajwa will meet British military leaders to discuss increasing the military relationship between the UK and Pakistan in the fight against extremist groups operating in Southern Asia including ISIS.

Pakistan army chief of staff qamar bajwaAmong the topics the General and his aide are expected to discuss include Pakistan’s concerns regarding extremism within Pakistan’s tribal area, the situation in Afghanistan, the security of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor and the disputed Kashmir region. As well as meeting British military and political leaders, the General is also expected to meet with leaders of the Pakistani community in the UK.

General Bajwa was promoted to the rank of four star general and appointed as the Chief of the Army Staff of the Pakistan Army by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in November 2016. He is the 16th general to hold the post and succeeded General Raheel Sharif who had held the post since 2013. Bajwa is known to be an advocate of democracy and has been characterised as having a more tempered approach to India than some of his predecessors.

The General’s visit to the UK follows a visit to Pakistan by the UK’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd last month. During the visit she was quoted in local media as saying;

Pakistan has suffered more than most from the scourge of terrorism…I would like to pay tribute to the hard work of the [Pakistan Interior] minister as well as Pakistan’s police and its armed forces in delivering significant improvements in security across the country over the last two years…We have a lot to learn from each other.

Westminster attack makes two days of terror in the UK

The incidents that unfolded outside the Houses of Parliament and on Westminster Bridge this afternoon mark two consecutive days of terror attacks on UK soil. While the details of precisely what happened today are still being released to the media what we do know is that a man drove a vehicle in to a crowd of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before crashing in to railings. The attack eerily echoes similar attacks carried out in France and Germany over the last year. Figures on casualties remain unconfirmed at this time but at least five people have been seen removed from the scene by ambulance.

He then abandoned the vehicle and at around 1445hrs either he or an accomplice attacked a police officer outside the Houses of Parliament. The police officer was stabbed before the attacker was then shot by armed officers responding to the scene. British Prime Minister Theresa May was still inside the building at the time of the attack on the officer following her weekly Prime Minister’s Questions with the House of Commons and was quickly ushered away by her security team. The House of Commons was then put in to lockdown as the area was searched and secured by police officers.

While the incident at Westminster is getting world attention it has overshadowed a terror attack carried out on UK soil yesterday by Irish dissidents in Strabane, County Tyrone. A bomb exploded near two Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers patrolling Townsend Street at 2030hrs on Tuesday night. The attack occurred just hours after former IRA commander Martin McGuinness’s body was carried through Bogside in Derry just 12 miles away.

PSNI Strabane

PSNI vehicle in Strabane, County Tyrone (BBC)

Speaking to the press, PSNI Superintendent Gordon McCalmont said;

“We are incredibly lucky that the lives of officers and other members of the community were not lost last night.

It is the latest in a string of attacks by Irish dissidents that included a sniper attack on a PSNI officer at a petrol station in north Belfast in January and an attempted bomb attack in the Poleglass area of the city. The Police Federation for Northern Ireland described the attackers who planted the bomb as “terrorists” while many republican politicians voiced their condemnation.

The social media threat to service personnel

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There’s no escaping that social media has been playing an increasing part in our everyday lives for the last decade and it is this fact that now have military chiefs worried about what information is being shared online by those under their command. This fear has been reinforced as reports have begun to circulate about fake profiles being created in order to follow the activities and locations of serving personnel and even members of youth cadet organisations.

The MailOnline has published reports from members of the British Army’s University Officers’ Training Corps that shows a worrying increase in the number of fake profiles being created and aimed at befriending members online. Security experts are concerned that with last year’s attempted abduction of an RAF NCO as he jogged near his base, members of Jihadist groups operating in the UK are trying to use social media to plot similar kidnappings or attacks.

Other sources claim that Russia is attempting to carry out covert reconnaissance and intelligence gathering operations on British forces via social media or even use it to recruit or coerce service personnel. It is also likely that news and other media outlets are following service personnel online hoping to uncover a story.

The MoD has been aware of the potential impact social media could have on security for quite some time and in 2012 published a booklet that provided a guide on what was acceptable or not. This included asking the following questions about anything put online;

• What if this ends up on the front page of the papers?
• Would I say this to my CO in front of 100 people?
• Would I leave this information lying on a park bench?
• What if a terrorist or criminal gets this information?

British forces aren’t the only ones who have had to learn this lesson with most of the world’s military and government organisations having to regulate their personnel’s use of social media. In July 2014, a Russian soldier named Sergeant Alexander Sotkin posted a photo of himself online with the image being tagged as having been taken in eastern Ukraine despite Russia repeatedly denying it had Russian soldiers fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels there.

Cyberspace represents many challenges when it comes to security. Firstly, unlike secret military equipment it is readily available to anyone and exists well outside the chain of command. Keeping government secrets has always been a part of military life but instead of shady, backroom dealings with mysterious strangers in trench coats the people trying to gather information online will often seem like anyone else with similar interests, personalities and no obvious indications that they are someone whose goal is more nefarious than simply sharing a funny cat video.

Are RAF fighters set to protect the Republic of Ireland from hijacked airliners?

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Over the past week, the Irish media have circulated reports that a secret agreement exists between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom that permits Royal Air Force fighter aircraft to enter Irish airspace in order to shoot down hijacked airliners in a 9/11-type scenario. The story broke on Monday when The Irish Examiner claimed that it had five credible sources within the Irish government and one close to the UK government that the agreement does exist although the Irish Department of Defence refused to answer questions on the topic.

The Irish Examiner claims that the agreement was reached between the Irish departments of defence, foreign affairs and the Irish Aviation Authority and their UK counterparts. As part of the agreement to protect Ireland from such a scenario as the 9/11 attacks, the RAF could also operate in Irish airspace if it was suspected that the hijacked aircraft was to be used against the UK.

Typhoon and bearAt present the Irish Air Corps has no fast-jet combat aircraft of its own. It does have a number of Pilatus PC-9 intermediate trainers that provide air policing duties but these are prop-driven aircraft that lack the speed or firepower of an air superiority fighter such as the RAF’s Typhoon FGR.4. Some sources have suggested that the agreement may also concern the problem of Russian bombers operating close to Irish airspace which have caused major problems for the Irish air traffic control gird and to which the Irish have been unable to counter themselves.

Responding to The Irish Eaxminer’s claims, the Irish Department of Defence reiterated that;

Primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Department of Justice and Equality and the gardaí, and that it is the long-standing practice of the department not to make any comment on operational or security matters that may affect the State.

The Republic of Ireland has long held a militarily neutral stance on the world stage and is not a member of NATO. Earlier this year the British and Irish governments signed an historic military cooperation agreement but this primarily concerned training.