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NCSC says Active Cyber Defence may expand to private sector • The Register

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Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre is prepared to share its cyber defence tech and threat intel feeds with British organisations in need of extra help, it said at the launch of its annual review today.

The GCHQ offshoot said it had shared “tens of thousands of indicators of compromise” across universities, as well as health and scientific institutions during 2020, in addition to sharing threat assessments with more than 80 companies and 14 universities.

You probably don’t want the country’s DNS being run by GCHQ!

Chief techie Ian Levy highlighted the NCSC’s Protective DNS service to The Register as one example of good things the cyber defence organisation has done, with the custom DNS resolver service being used by 1,000 NHS supply chain firms to prevent their devices visiting known malicious web domains.

Levy, however, pointed out that NCSC’s PDNS service is of limited use for the wider private sector, adding: “You probably don’t want the country’s DNS being run by GCHQ!”

Paul Maddinson, NCSC director of national resilience, added: “What we can certainly do is work with the private sector to develop similar capabilities themselves… we’re really happy to share both the technology [and] the threat intelligence feeds.”

During the last 12 months the NCSC said it played a vital role in fending off cyber attacks directed at the NHS as well as organisations researching and producing COVID-19 vaccines.

In March universities and schools were urged to sort out their security posture after a spate of ransomware attacks directed against them.

We understand the NCSC has an internal “grand challenge” for its staffers to figure out just how vulnerable the UK public sector is to cyber attacks and ransomware, focusing on a data science-driven approach to ascertaining which orgs are most vulnerable to the latter. There’s a long chain of UK.gov suppliers stretching deep into the private sector, and in turn many of those are potentially vulnerable to supply chain attacks targeted at their MSPs.

Active Cyber Defence is the NCSC scheme for blunting common-or-garden cyber attacks by offering threat reduction advice and some simple tools. It’s basic stuff compared to what the infosec industry can do (for the right price) but the main advantage, for tools available to the private sector, is that they’re free.

Otherwise the NCSC annual review [PDF] boasted that it had managed 777 incidents during the last 12 months – including the Footfallcam kerfuffle where a British-based company was found to be saving user passwords and DVR admin credentials in plaintext. Around a fifth of those incidents concerned healthcare and vaccine-focused organisations.

Chief exec Lindy Cameron said she was “proud” of the GCHQ offshoot, which has played an increasing role in calling for more government intervention, regulation and legislation to tackle ransomware attacks.

“Undoubtedly there are challenges ahead,” said Cameron in a statement, “but the upcoming National Cyber Strategy combined with the continued engagement from businesses and the public provides a solid foundation for us to continue reducing the impact of online threats.”

Over the past 12 months the NCSC also responded to a rise in ransomware attacks, and a range of services have been provided to businesses over the past year to help protect them from ransomware. These include the Early Warning Service alerting organisations to emerging threats through to cyber security advice for those working in education.

Steve Barclay MP, Cabinet Office minister (aka Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for some constitutionally obscure reason), said: “The government and its agencies will continue to throw every resource at its disposal to stamp out cybercrime and take down cybercriminals but there are things that we can all do to keep us and those in our communities safe. We want to make sure that everyone knows how to avoid threats online, spot scams and where to report wrongdoing.”

The latter includes around eight million reports made to the NCSC’s suspicious email reporting service resulting in 67,000 takedowns.

“The Active Cyber Defence programme has taken down 2.3 million cyber-enabled commodity campaigns, 442 phishing campaigns using NHS branding, and 80 illegitimate NHS apps hosted and available to download outside of official app stores,” concluded a cheerful NCSC.

It’s a small dent in the tidal wave of malicious sites and services online but a good one to make. ®

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Chinese could hack data for future quantum decryption, report warns | Hacking

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Chinese hackers could target heavily encrypted datasets such as weapon designs or details of undercover intelligence officers with a view to unlocking them at a later date when quantum computing makes decryption possible, a report warns.

Analysts at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm, say Chinese hackers could also steal pharmaceutical, chemical and material science research that can be processed by quantum computers – machines capable of crunching through numbers at unprecedented speed.

In a report titled “Chinese threats in the quantum era”, the consultancy says encrypted data could be stolen by “Chinese threat groups”. It says quantum-assisted decryption will arrive faster than quantum-assisted encryption, giving hackers an edge.

“Encrypted data with intelligence longevity, like biometric markers, covert intelligence officer and source identities, social security numbers, and weapons’ designs, may be increasingly stolen under the expectation that they can eventually be decrypted,” the report says. It says “state-aligned cyber threat actors” will start to steal or intercept previously unusable encrypted data.

However, it adds there is a “very small” likelihood that quantum computing could break the latest encryption methods before 2030. The analysts say quantum computing’s advantages over classical computing – the computing used in everything from laptops to mobile phones – are at least a decade away.

“Although quantum computers’ current abilities are more demonstrative than immediately useful, their trajectory suggests that in the coming decades quantum computers will likely revolutionize numerous industries – from pharmaceuticals to materials science – and eventually undermine all popular current public-key encryption methods,” the report says.

Quantum computing is viewed as an exciting development. For example, experts say it could predict accurately what a complex molecule might do and thus pave the way for new drugs and materials.

China is already a strong player in the field, and Booz Allen Hamilton says it expected the country to surpass Europe and the US – where IBM recently made the most powerful quantum processor – in quantum-related research and development.

“Chinese threat groups will likely soon collect encrypted data with long-term utility, expecting to eventually decrypt it with quantum computers,” the report says. “By the end of the 2020s, Chinese threat groups will likely collect data that enables quantum simulators to discover new economically valuable materials, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.”

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UK Space Agency asks kids to make a logo for first launches • The Register

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Good news for those in the UK with primary school-aged kids and wondering what to do when the next bout of home-schooling hits: design a logo for the first UK satellite launches.

2022 could be a big year for launching satellites from Blighty’s shores as the first launchers gear up for a historic blast-off. Assuming the facilities have been built and all the necessary consents given and boxes ticked.

There are currently seven possible spaceport sites across the UK, from Cornwall in England through Llanbedr in Wales and up to the Western Isles in Scotland. Cash has been lobbed Cornwall’s way to support a horizontal launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall and more toward Scotland for Orbex’s ambitions to launch vertically from Sutherland.

Should all the approvals happen and construction be completed, there is every chance the UK might host its first launch at some point in 2022.

Hence the need for a logo and thus a competition aimed at inspiring kids to consider a career in the space industry. And, of course, it is all worthy stuff: “Logo designs,” intoned the UK Space Agency, “should reflect how data from small satellites can help inform solutions to climate change as well as generate a source of pride in the UK’s space ambitions.”

What, we wondered, could possibly go wrong?

We put this question to Rob Manuel, one of those behind web stalwart b3ta.com. B3ta has a long history of (among other things) image challenges, the results of which tend to pop up, often unattributed, in timelines around the world. Now heading into its third decade, the site continues to push out a weekly Friday newsletter to email subscribers.

In terms of how to engage participants, Manuel said: “If anyone asks me, and they rarely do, I encourage competitions to be as open as possible – publish the results as they’re coming in. Try and create a buzz that something is happening rather than everything going in the bin.”

“As for things going wrong,” he went on, “well, there’s always an element who’ll want to subvert it.”

The competition is open to children aged 4-11 and will run until 11 March 2022. There are two age categories (4-7 and 7-11) over 12 regions in the UK. Designs can be drawn, painted, or created on a computer and either submitted on the logoliftoff.org.uk site or via post. Some basic questions also need to be answered, and children can work on their own or in a team of up to four.

We asked the UK Space Agency if it would take Manuel’s advice and post entries ahead of the competition close. We will update should it respond. ®

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Video analytics platform RugbySmarts named ‘most investable’ at SportX

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The Galway tech start-up was one of two winners at the sport-focused pre-accelerator programme.

A start-up developing real-time video analytics for sports has been named ‘most investable’ at SportX, a new pre-accelerator in Ireland for founders with sports and wellness business ideas.

RugbySmarts took the title at the inaugural SportX showcase last week, securing a cash prize.

The Galway-based start-up aims to automate and simplify sports analytics using AI,  machine learning and computer vision, helping coaches to improve player and team performance with a platform that could also be transferred to other sports.

RugbySmarts was founded last year by CTO William Johnstone, who has previously worked with Connacht Rugby, and CEO Yvonne Comer, who is a former Ireland international rugby player.

Meanwhile, the award of ‘best impact on sport’ was given to TrojanTrack. This start-up, founded in 2021 by Dublin-based Stephen O’Dwyer, is looking to combine quantitative biomechanical analysis with deep neural network tech in the equine industry.

The aim is to gain feedback on a horse’s injury or gait imbalance without using invasive technology, such as motion-tracking software that requires markers to be attached to the animal’s skin.

‘Next-gen sports-tech entrepreneurs’

SportX was launched earlier this year by advisory firm Resolve Partners, Sport Ireland and ArcLabs – the research and innovation centre at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The aim of the pre-accelerator programme was to build on tech and business ideas for the sport and wellness industries, giving founders access to academic, clinical and commercial resources.

The six-week programme involved workshops and engagement with advisers, entrepreneurs, subject experts and investors. Participants also had the opportunity to pitch to the US-based Techstars Sports Accelerator.

At the SportX showcase last week, nine teams had five minutes each to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.

The two winners were selected by the panel, which featured Gary Leyden of the ArcLabs Fund 1 GP, Sport Ireland’s Benny Cullen and Niall McEvoy of Enterprise Ireland.

At the launch of SportX earlier this year, Leyden said the goal of the programme was to find “the next generation of sports-tech entrepreneurs who can leverage the amazing enterprise and sports-related supports within the south-east of Ireland”.

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