Thursday, 22 September 2016

The National GCHQ Firewall: Will It Work?

If you haven't heard the news yet, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is taking aggressive action against cyber criminals with the establishment of a new division known as the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). The centre, which is slated to open sometime in October (2016), will be the first such government agency dedicated solely to defending the UK against cyber security threats. One of their first missions will be to build a 'national firewall' that would protect internet users from the most common cyber threats.

Thus far, GCHQ has not detailed how the national firewall will work, but they have said that the NCSC will not actually be responsible for filtering out suspect sites and emails. Instead, the primary mission of the firewall is to provide a national domain name system that internet providers and others can use to block access to computers via IP address.

The question on everybody's mind should be, will it work?

As explained by the Telegraph on its website, there are quite a few ISPs with IP blocking policies already in place. They have enjoyed some limited success in preventing malware attacks, phishing attacks and the like. They have also prevented British internet users from accessing sites with content that violates copyright protections.

Some Success Already

The Telegraph says the government has also enjoyed some measure of success with a tool that is capable of identifying and intercepting malicious emails that appear to come from government agencies. It is based on the identification of any emails purporting to come from government sources and then checking origin IP addresses against an existing database of known government addresses. Any email with an IP address that does not match is automatically blocked.

GCHQ has developed a tool to a point where they have been testing its effectiveness on a state tax refund site that was sending out as many as 58,000 emails per day. According to NCSC chief executive Ciaran Martin, that site is no longer sending their emails.

The fact that the government has seen modest success in large-scale email blocking seems to suggest that their plans for a national firewall could work. But there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome. Ultimately, the success or failure of the system is going to rely on how well government and private entities work together.

Every Tool Can Help

Knowing what we know about cyber security and network threats, we can say with a fair degree of confidence that a national firewall will not be a perfect solution all by itself. No single cyber security tool can protect us against every single threat. But every tool that does what it is designed to do adds to a much larger arsenal that is better able to defend against cyberattacks with every passing day.

We look forward to seeing what the GCHQ comes up with for a national firewall. Hopefully, their efforts will allow private organisations to take some much-needed strides in addressing cyber threats.

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