George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, warns the Islamic State will kill Britons using the internet.
During a visit to the GCHQ “listening station” in Cheltenham, Osborne said IS will target utilities and air-traffic control. GCHQ is the British version of the NSA.
Osborne’s remarks come as the British PM, David Cameron, vows to spend more money on intelligence services to fight those “who would destroy us and our values.”
“The new cash for the security and intelligence agencies to provide for an extra 1,900 officers—an increase of 15 per cent—at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to respond to the increasing international terrorist threat, more cyber-attacks and other global risks,” the Telegraph reported on Monday.
Osborne admitted IS currently does not have the ability to launch sophisticated cyber attacks, but said it will one day. “They do not yet have that capability. But we know they want it, and are doing their best to build it,” he said.
“If our electricity supply, or our air traffic control, or our hospitals were successfully attacked online, the impact could be measured not just in terms of economic damage but of lives lost.”
Technology and security experts, however, say IS does not pose a threat.
“I don’t think anyone has any proof that there’s an imminent attack or that ISIS has acquired the manpower or the resources to launch an attack on the infrastructure of the United States,” Craig Guiliano, senior threat specialist at security firm TSC Advantage and a former counterterrorism officer with the Department of Defense, said last September.
“You need some resources. You need access to certain kinds of technology. You need to have hardcore programmers,” Jim Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Time. “ISIS doesn’t have those capabilities.”
IS has thus far only manages to use Twitter and Facebook to spread propaganda and recruit members. Many of the posts are from supporters and cranks, not from the Islamic State directly. The government and the media, however, often portray these tweets as threats issued by the Islamic State.
One suspected IS member, Abu Hussain Al Britani, hacked former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Gmail account and a group called “Lizard Squad,” supposedly linked to IS through tweets, claimed responsibility for taking down the websites of Sony and the Vatican.
“Honestly, I think the threat is overblown,” Bruce Schneier, author of Schneier on Security, told Popular Mechanics. “The risks today are due more to errors than to malicious intent.”
Following the Paris attacks, the United States said IS is “going dark,” a reference to the use of encrypted communications and anonymous software such as Tor.
Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have renewed a call for Apple, Google and Facebook to provide backdoor access to encrypted technology. The government claims encrypted and anonymous communication pose a threat to national security.