This week in a speech held at the cybersecurity summit IA14, the UK’s Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude alluded to an attack that took place on the internal government networks of the United Kingdom and their spy affiliate the GCHQ just a few short months ago.
Claiming that the internal networks of the government had been penetrated by a ring of potentially state-sponsored hackers, Maude assured the crowd of around 250 at the event that the agency was easily able to brush the problem off, not losing any data or valuable information during the short time the firewalls were down and the group launched their laser-focused strike.
It’s not hard to surmise a few different reasons why members of the underground hacking community might be interested in messing with agents at the GCHQ.
Since the agency was first exposed for their massive spying operations that stretched across every line of human decency and respect for people’s privacy that you can think of, no one is exactly surprised that the internal networks of the agency are under threat.
Whether or not the group was actually state sponsored is something we’ll have to take the British government for their word at.
“I can tell you of a recent case where a state-sponsored hostile group gained access to a system administrator account on the Government Secure Intranet. Fortunately this attack was discovered early and dealt with to mitigate any damage.
For that – and in many other cases – we can be thankful that we have some brilliant people working to keep us safe. They’re drawn from GCHQ and the security services, the armed forces, the police and National Crime Agency, the civil service, and of course the private sector too, but they share much in common. They’re bright, motivated and have bucket loads of expertise.”
This admission of weakness marks one of the few times the British government has copped up to any attacks on their systems, either by opposing states or otherwise. The timing suggests they are simply trying to get people back on their side after the Snowden debacle, however it is likely that one situation could have led to the other in this specific scenario.
Due to all their negative publicity over the past year, the GCHQ has become a prime target for European hackers looking to make a name for themselves. Although their achievements will only be recognized through candid forums such as the one at IA14, it’s still a plaque they can put on their wall and something they can tag at the end of a resume whenever they’re hunting for work on the darknet.
To combat the commonly held public opinion that they’re up to no good, the agency says they’ll slowly start releasing declassified data over the next several weeks “at scale and pace”, including caches of files and history logs which should supposedly prove their usefulness to a country that’s filled to the brim with deniers and detractors, many of whom still have a hard time believing the government needed to go as far as it has to protect them from the rest of the world.