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Olympic Ceremony

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Don't Let The Lights Go Out On Your Business

Fears that the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony might have come under cyber-attack have been detailed by officials for the first time.
The concern was that the lights could have been turned off during the ceremony.

The threat did not materialise, but officials have said they put extensive precautions in place.
It comes amid fears about the vulnerability of Britain's national infrastructure to cyber-attack.

The head of the government's surveillance centre GCHQ, Sir Iain Lobban, says reconnaissance has taken place in cyberspace and there is a "realistic threat", which his intelligence agency is working with partners to try to counter.
A phone call from GCHQ at 04:45 is not the ideal way of being woken on the day of the Olympic opening ceremony if you are head of cyber security for the Games.

"There was a suggestion that there was a credible attack on the electricity infrastructure supporting the Games," Olympic cyber security head Oliver Hoare, who received the call, told BBC Radio 4 - in the first interview an official has given on the events that day.
"And the first reaction to that is, 'Goodness, you know, let's make a strong cup of coffee.'" If the lights had gone off during the opening ceremony, with close to a billion people watching, the impact would have been enormous.
When it came to risks to the Games, cyber attacks had been lower down the list than terrorism, which could cause real loss of life, but extensive testing had still taken place for a range of different possibilities.

This included precisely the scenario that raised concerns on the opening day. "We'd tested no less than five times the possibility of an attack, a cyber-attack, on the electricity infrastructure," said Mr Hoare.
This would prove vital in ensuring an effective response from a team that stretched across government, the Olympic organisers Locog and private sector service providers such as BT.

Thirty seconds at the opening ceremony with the lights going down would have been catastrophic" The initial response to the threat came from the Olympic Cyber Co-ordination Team (OCCT), based at MI5 headquarters in Thames House.

There were two priorities. The first was to investigate how credible the threat might be. The information had come in overnight and was based on the discovery of attack tools and targeting information that it was thought at the time might relate to the Olympics.
While this investigation continued, officials also put in place contingency plans in case the attack materialised. Time was not on their side. "The clock was absolutely ticking," recalled Mr Hoare, who worked first for the Olympic Delivery Authority and then the Government Olympic Executive.

He, and others interviewed for the story, declined to speak in detail about the preparations put in place. "We effectively switched to manual, or had the facility to switch to manual. It's a very crude way of describing it. But effectively we had lots of technicians stationed at various points," he said.
In the afternoon a meeting was held in the Cabinet Office briefing room (although it was not a formal meeting of Cobra, the government's emergency response committee), chaired by deputy national security adviser Oliver Robbins, where different partners could join in videoconferencing from places such as the Olympic Park.

Contingency plans were discussed and ministers informed. Confidence grew that if the threat materialised it could be dealt with.
Mr Hoare said that watching at home with his family, who did not know about the threat, he twitched every time the lights dimmed.
In the end the threat turned out to be a false alarm. But it does highlight a growing fear about the vulnerability of Britain's critical infrastructure to cyber-attack.

 

For more information about how Nsure can help insure your business against cyber attack, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call 01903 520200

 

Adapted from BBC News UK website article 8th July 2013

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