Monday, 12 November 2012

Skyfall - Cyber War Becomes Cool

I went to see James Bond's 23rd outing in Skyfall yesterday - for a second time this week I admit, I do love a bit Bond.  The film is great - go and see it! - and intertwines the new world action film, with all the old world British spy touches that has made Bond the longest running movie franchise of all time.

Gone were the gimmicky gadgets of old, with megalomaniacs trying to run the world, destroy the world or recreate the world, and in came a cyber terrorist with a personal vengeance.  Technology has always played a part in Bond.  The British secret service, Bletchley Park and GCHQ have all had their fair share of computer-related innovations, from encryption through to surveillance, so seeing a control room full of screens 'processing' unintelligible code and instructions is nothing new.  However, this time around, it was more the concept of cyber war that was more prominent as opposed to the technology.


Cyber War as a Concept

With the Remembrance ceremonies taking place just this weekend in the UK and other commonwealth countries, the concept of war is well known by many, with the tangible and not-so tangible impact keenly felt.  Historically, war has been about armies, borders, nation states, differing ideologies or religions.  The enemy was well known and through propaganda, seemingly well described and easily identifiable.  On line cyber war introduces some very subtle and challenging concepts.  Firstly, the enemy is largely unknown and certainly not visable in the normal physical sense.  The attacker is general known not as a single individual or army, but more an electronic device or piece of software.  The creators and operators, are real, most of the time, but the actual attack will be remote and to paraphrase one of Skyfall's leading characters, M, operate from the 'shadows'.

To introduce the concept of cyber war into the film, is a great statement of how far, on line cyber attacks have come.  From being something from sci-fi stories only a few years ago, to the main stream with simple and plausible story lines is powerful.  It also goes some way to show how much attacks are becoming common place, making headlines daily.  Non-technical personnel are suddenly familiar with terminology such as hackers, encryption and bots.

Contemporary Technology

The film used an array of contemporary IT terms and concepts from the GPS tracking of both Bond and the cars he used, network devices being traced via IP address headers to firewalls being 'breached'.  Asymmetric encryption was also mentioned on a few occasions too.  Whilst they stick out to me with a 'techy' background, they added to the reality of the scene's, but also again identified how many domain specific terms have now become part of the main stream.  Many have been introduced with the onset of smart phone ownership, especially things like GPS, wifi and tracking.

Popular Cyber Awareness

From a security perspective, the great part of all of this, is the continual awareness that is being created on the topic of cyber war, cyber attacks and cyber security.  The concept is no longer isolated to a few rogue hackers or governments engaged in physical wars.  Attacks are now unfortunately, becoming omnipresent, from both an individual consumer perspective and at the larger enterprise and government level.  Whilst it takes a modicum of technical expertise, it certainly doesn't require vast resources and funding, to stage a sophisticated attack.

Whilst Mr Silva is certainly a one-off Bond villain on many levels, his ideas and mentality could be around for a while to come.

@SimonMoffatt