SC Executive Network: Sir Ian Blair on the problems of the insider threat and cyber terrorism

Star speaker Sir Ian Blair dazzled top security bosses at the second meeting of our exclusive club for industry leaders.

The second SC Executive Network was held in mid-March, with a select audience of around 20 CISOs meeting for social and professional purposes.

The speaker was former Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Ian Blair, who focused on various problems at the intersection of policing and security. These included the problems of the insider threat and the effect of cyber terrorism, as well as intelligence on Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden and the 2005 London bombs.

At the event, held in the City of London and sponsored by Accenture, Blair told his audience: “Everything you do is about protecting systems from external threat. There is an interesting analogy with my previous organisation and concerns about police corruption.”

He said that corruption, much like the insider threat, “is endemic. It is there, it is part of the world in which we operate. And if you run a criminal operation and want to produce your business plan, you find a corrupt cop.”

He added: “The internal threat of disillusionment and irritation is one that all of us have to be aware of.”

Blair said he was not an expert on information communication technology security, but “extremely interested”. He said that, after speaking to a senior police officer, he now felt this could potentially be the greatest threat to the UK by the end of this decade.

He specifically pointed to the Olympics, which he claimed would be a major embarrassment were the power grid to be hit – and a disaster for the UK. He also said cyber space is “an entirely ungoverned arena” and working out how to govern it may be one of the biggest challenges of the next 20 years.

He also pointed to a Times report from March 2010, in which Lord West stated that if a plane bombed a power station it would be an act of war, whereas if a power station were disabled it would be an act of terrorism. “We need to learn more,” Blair said.

He continued: “There are organised gangs, but the most worrying thing is that there are some criminal elements that are specifically not organised. They are almost momentary alliances – and to combat that is very difficult.”

In a comprehensive Q&A session, he made what he called a “lagging versus wind power” analogy. He claimed that ‘lagging' – using old technology – was the worst threat to an organisation with disillusioned employees, “who could cause more damage than anyone else”. Wind turbines, he said, were a modern architecture and systems to prevent attacks should be built in that spirit.

“What is really important is inside the company, and the protection internally – and there are people who are going to behave very badly, and they are going to do huge damage. That is the bit we have got to concentrate on,” said Blair.

SC editor Paul Fisher said: “This was another stimulating evening for the Executive Network. Sir Ian Blair more than lived up to expectations. His candour and insight were greatly appreciated by the audience.”

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