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Most of the organised cyber crime originates in Russia

The infrastructure of Northern Ireland has been suffered a "significant" number of online attacks for quite some time by hostile nations, UK's top cyber security agency has revealed.

CEO of National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Ciaran Martin, revealed on his two-day visit to Belfast, during his speech at Queen's University he briefed the permanent secretaries of Stormont departments.

During his interview with the Belfast Telegraph, he agreed that most of the cyberattacks cannot be stopped or are inevitable, but we can control the damage.

However, an Oxford University graduate explained: "We believe the aim is that they'll want to pre-position for times of tension, or they'll want to find out how systems work so that potentially they can compromise them in future. Attacks on critical infrastructure are going to happen - what's important is that they can't do as much harm as they might otherwise do."

Martin said: "The risk is there, I don't want to over-hype the risk, but in a digital economy like NI there are critical systems - the NHS, there will be power grids and so forth - so part of our job is to help the owners of those networks and make sure that if there is a large-scale very serious attack that it can only do a certain amount of damage and it can't paralyse the system. Part of the NCSC's job is, over time, to build in that resilience into the system so that large-scale damage is less likely.

"So a very serious attack is possible. I wouldn't say it's statistically more probable or less probable that it would happen in Northern Ireland than England or the Republic or somewhere else. What I would say with high confidence is that there is an everyday risk to the economy here from that sort of low sophistication, but highly prolific, set of attacks. There is always the potential for a very serious attack, and certainly, at a UK-wide level I think we expect a 'significant scale attack' in the next few years."

According to the agency, most of the organised cybercrime originates in eastern Europe, particularly Russia.

He continued: "Mostly you're just talking about low-level prolific tech where someone wants to steal a few hundred pounds, someone wants to hold a business to ransom, someone wants to steal a data set. It's just that corrosive, low-level damage where each individual attack is of no particular strategic significance, you add them all up and you've got a big problem and that's what we're trying to fix.

"The main source of cyber attacks are hostile foreign states and international criminal groups, they're not terrorist groups or paramilitary groups whether here in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. Paramilitary and terrorist groups across the world tend not to have very sophisticated cyber attack capabilities. It's mostly an organised criminal network, it may be under the sponsorship of the state, but it's a bunch of people sitting in cubicles looking at screens trying to do a large-scale attack."

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