Britain's nuclear power stations on terror alert as cyber threat intensifies

Intelligence agencies fear that computer hackers are trying to bypass nuclear power station security measures.
AFP

Intelligence agencies fear that computer hackers are trying to bypass nuclear power station security measures.

Britain's airports and nuclear power stations have been told to tighten their defences against terrorist attacks in the face of increased threats to electronic security systems.

Security services have issued a series of alerts in the past 24 hours, warning that terrorists may have developed ways of bypassing safety checks.

Intelligence agencies believe Islamic State and other terrorist groups have developed ways to plant explosives in laptops and mobile phones that can evade airport security screening methods.

Terrorist groups are thought to have developed explosives that can evade security after obtaining airport screening ...
ANN JOHANSSON/AP

Terrorist groups are thought to have developed explosives that can evade security after obtaining airport screening equipment that allowed them to experiment.

It is this intelligence which is understood in the past fortnight to have led the US and Britain to ban travellers from a number of countries carrying laptops and large electronic devices on board. Now there are concerns that terrorists will use the techniques to bypass screening devices at European and US airports.

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The warnings come as Britain remains on a "severe" state of alert following last month's attack in Westminster, London, ...

The warnings come as Britain remains on a "severe" state of alert following last month's attack in Westminster, London, in which four people were killed and more than 50 injured.

There were also fears that computer hackers were trying to bypass nuclear power station security measures.

Government officials have warned that terrorists, foreign spies and "hacktivists" are looking to exploit "vulnerabilities" in the nuclear industry's internet defences.

Jesse Norman, Britain's energy minister, told The Sunday Telegraph that nuclear plants must make sure they "remain resilient to evolving cyber threats".

"The government is fully committed to defending the UK against cyber threats, with a £1.9 billion investment designed to transform this country's cyber security," Norman said. 

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He said the civil nuclear strategy published in February sets out ways to ensure that the civil nuclear sector "can defend against, recover from, and remain resilient to evolving cyber threats".

Professor Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, an independent think-tank for defence and security, said: "It is important for the government to respond rapidly to evolving cyber security threats.

"The potential threats are wide-ranging and are coming from government and non-government sources.

"Crucially, there has to be clear co-operation with the private sector to tackle this, especially as airports are usually in private hands."

US intelligence officials have warned that groups including IS and al-Qaeda may have developed ways to build bombs in laptops and other electronic devices that can fool airport security.

There are fears that terrorists made the breakthrough after obtaining airport screening equipment to allow them to experiment.

FBI experts have tested how the explosives can be hidden inside laptop battery compartments in a way that allows a computer to still be turned on.

They were said to have found that the technique would be achievable using everyday equipment.

The US Department of Homeland Security said in a statement: "Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in electronics."

Manny Gomez, a former FBI special agent, said: "We had the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, the printer cartridge attempt, now this is the next level. We need to be several steps ahead of them."

Last year al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, detonated a bomb on a flight from Mogadishu to Djibouti. The explosives were hidden in a part of a laptop where bomb-makers had removed a DVD drive.

The bomber was blown out of the window but the plane survived. However, experts said the bomb would have been far more devastating had the plane reached cruising altitude.

The warnings come as Britain remains on a "severe" state of alert following last month's attack in Westminster, London, in which four people were killed and more than 50 injured.

Warnings that the nuclear industry has to do more to protect itself were contained in the five-year Civil Nuclear Cyber Security Strategy. It says: "The volume and complexity of cyber attacks against the UK are growing and the range of actors is widening."

 - The Telegraph, London

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