Why you should take the MI5 warning seriously

Cyber attacks and deepfakes are set to cause mayhem
Martin Greenfield

The great political game of chess has once again begun in the UK. This year’s general election sees Sunak and Starmer go head-to-head to win over the nation, voters waiting eagerly in the wings for the ballot to open on July 4th so they can have their say.

But the excitement around political campaigns has once again been tarnished by an outside threat; one that promises to “sow division and cause chaos” according to a committee of MPs. MI5 has released a warning about the risk of cyberattacks and has urged candidates and officials to be vigilant against efforts to “manipulate or compromise the UK electoral process” by nation state actors.

It’s a scary time; we’ve already seen the reality – and subsequent damage – of tools like deepfakes and identity hacks on well-known politicians. The deepfake of Keir Starmer verbally abusing his staff earlier this year already put the opposition party on red alert for further disinformation.

While this advisory focuses on the threat to the electoral process, businesses should also heed MI5’s warning. The sophisticated tactics are not limited to political targets; corporate networks face the same risks from state-sponsored attackers and cybercriminal groups every day.

We’re witnessing yet another wake-up call for businesses across the globe to bolster their cyber defences. Will leaders pay attention and act, or ignore and face the incoming threats unprepared?

A very real threat

The attack methods included in MI5’s warning can be hard to defend against at the best of times, but even more so for those businesses left unprepared.

It’s the usual list of suspects when it comes to the repercussions of a successful breach. Compromised data, for instance, can expose sensitive customer information, leading to regulatory fines and reputational damage, packaged up with eroded customer trust and loyalty. Data loss could also cripple operations, hinder productivity, and lead to significant financial losses.

Ransomware attacks also remain the favoured weapon in an attacker’s arsenal. Organisations often fall victim to having their data encrypted and being forced to pay a ransom for decryption, with two outcomes: pay up (which they are strongly advised against doing) or face permanent data loss and everything that comes with that. This type of attack can also leave systems vulnerable to future attacks and data theft.

AI-driven proactive security

Aside from causing chaos and disruption, generally, an attacker’s aim is to get access to an organisation’s most valuable assets. Whether they use ransomware to breach a system, or an identity hack to fool employees into handing over confidential information, they have one goal – use a company’s own weaknesses against them.

AI-backed attack methods are getting harder to detect and prevent. Specific institutions can adopt best practices to limit the risk. Banks, for example, use voice recognition for online banking, so routine practice could be to monitor IP addresses from phone calls and check that geographical locations and IP providers are consistent and are not coming from rogue nations.

Across the board however, organisations are encouraged to take all the steps necessary to turn any reactive cybersecurity into proactive strategies.

AI is a valuable asset in your cybersecurity arsenal. AI-powered systems can continuously monitor your network for suspicious activity, identify and block malware, and automate some of the more tedious and time-consuming security tasks. This allows your security teams to focus on more strategic initiatives and respond more effectively to complex attack methods.

In the meantime…

Here are a few keys steps to help businesses stay ahead:

  1. Track your assets so you can identify where vulnerabilities lurk
  2. Offer user awareness training to help your employees identify fraudulent activity
  3. Regularly review access controls to critical systems
  4. Check all data is encrypted
  5. Continuously monitor IT controls to ensure controls aren't broken

Let’s face it, when MI5 sends out warnings, only fools would choose not to listen!

Written by
July 8, 2024
Written by
Martin Greenfield
CEO of Quod Orbis
July 8, 2024