MoD's Qinetiq leads UK cyber security consortium

In the mid 2000s, under New Labour, a research arm of the Military of Defence (MoD) was spun off, carved up, and sold to the highest bidder, emerging as a company called Qinetiq. The UK held, at first, a majority share – which eventually dwindled and was finally sold off. Now it has been contracted by some familiar faces to lead a consortium which aims to protect the MoD from cyber attacks.

The consortium is called Enabling Secure Information Infrastructure, or ESII. For this particular contract, Qinetiq, which is partly owned by the US’ Carlyle Group, mentions that there are 11 suppliers including major defence agencies along with UK universities and small and medium sized enterprises. In the past, Qinetic has rubbed shoulders in large-project consortiums with companies like BAE Systems, BT, EADS, EDS, and IBM

The ESII consortium has been appointed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL)’s Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE). DSTL made up the smaller part of the UK’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), with the larger part becoming Qinetiq.

DSTL is the largest scientific organisation operating within British government – employing roughly 3,500 – although it operates as a commercial enterprise. The purpose of the DSTL is for technological defence and security research for the MoD and government that is deemed too sensitive for the private sector. 

DSTL commissioned the consortium to build a cloud ecosystem where multiple users would be able to securely access files, programs, applications and services remotely – this architecture, the group says, was then used to provide a secure collaboration environment for testing concepts, tools and techniques to “improve cyber situational awareness”. 

Nine proposals from a list of eleven suppliers were successful and received DSTL funding. In its first phase, they will detail the technical aspects of their proposals before putting ta technical design paper to the MoD. Once that is approved, the phase two demonstrations will get the reen light. Along with Qinetic, other suppliers are: HW Comms Ltd, Brunel University, Northrop Grumman, University of Oxford, University of Warwick, University of Glamorgan, Cassidian Systems, Montvieux Ltd, Roke Manor Research, Thales R&T, and EADS Innovation Works. Qinetiq claims that among the proposals were plans for countering sophisticated network intrusion attacks, and virtualising attack data. 

Qinetiq and the ESII’s end goal appears to be in creating a network in which concept attacks and the response to these threats can be analysed, in preparation for the real thing. DSTL’s head of the Cyber and Influence Science and Technology Centre said in a statement that testing cyber security concepts helps DSTL to understand sophisticated threats and situations that the UK may face in real life. In turn, it is claimed, this will help the Ministry of Defence improve its “capabilities in cyberspace” – and give the government a head start on the kinds of attacks that are, without doubt, going to emerge.

Qinetiq’s Tim Dean, from the information assurance assurance division, claimed that situational awareness in cyber security will, in the long term, saves costs for the UK if it is able to react to threats quickly and effectively. “Developing an awareness of potential cyber threats and the actions that could be taken to counter them,” Dean said, will enable the MoD to react quickly and result in potential cost savings”.

Speaking with TechEye, a former Ministry of Defence worker familiar with the matter said that, just four years ago, the MoD was under attack from 600,000 automated botnet attacks every single day. Most were suspected to have originated from China – when addresses from China were blocked, the number drastically decreased temporarily. Meanwhile, Bit9 CEO Patrick Morley told TechEye that any organisation or company with highly sensitive intellectual property faces, without question, infrastructure attacks from private-public hybrid corporations often acting on behalf of nation-states.