Russell Haworth

Active Cyber Defence – The Third Year

On 19 February, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) published the annual report into the efforts and achievements of their Active Cyber Defence programme, which aims to reduce the impact of cyber attacks on the UK by providing services that protect against a range of threats.

The report, ‘Active Cyber Defence (ACD) – The Third Year’, covers 2019 and includes the incredible progress of Protective DNS (PDNS), which has proudly been delivered by Nominet on behalf of NCSC and the UK Government since 2017.

PDNS prevents public sector users from accessing domains or IPs that are known to contain malicious content and stops malware already on a network from calling home.

The ACD report captures new milestones for the use of PDNS in 2019, when the estimated number of protected UK public sector employees reached 1.4 million. This was a 57% increase on 2018 – and has increased even further recently. PDNS was also deployed by 200 additional organisations over the course of the 12 months, which includes most central Government departments and the majority of local authorities. These achievements have increased the breadth of cyber security Nominet is providing across the UK public sector.

For example, the report estimates that PDNS dealt with 142 billion queries in 2019, more than double the 68.7 billion queries made in 2018. It also highlights common culprits identified by PDNS in 2019, including Emotet, Necurs, Kraken, Sphinx, Neutrino, Cerber, CryptoLocker. GandCrab, Wannacry, NotPetya, BadRabbit, Ramnit, Tiny Banker, Conficker.

The sheer extent of queries and responses demonstrates that PDNS is a genuine force multiplier in cyber defence and the data produced has proved instrumental in identifying and quickly remediating incidents. Once aware of an incident affecting a particular type of infrastructure or service, PDNS data informs analysis to identify affected organisations and to begin the next steps of remediation.

In taking those ‘penultimate steps towards service maturity’, and as active users grow, PDNS is giving the NCSC visibility across the UK public sector that is allowing it to make observations, provide more meaningful metrics and feedback, and identify the areas most needing attention.

The uptake of PDNS would not be possible without a focus on customer support and the PDNS onboarding statistics are testament to the hard work of the team here at Nominet. We firmly believe that it’s not just what you deliver, but how you deliver it. The service wrap that sits alongside PDNS is second-to-none and ensures that end users are both protected and feel supported throughout the process.

In particular, the ACD report calls out the training documents, workshops and webinars that were carried out throughout the year and made available online as part of the PDNS knowledge base.

Ultimately, the report shows that PDNS made incredible headway in 2019 – and for that we’re incredibly proud. Based on the fantastic engagement and utilisation of PDNS from organisations across the public sector, the NCSC took the decision in 2019 to prepare for the future and doubled the capacity of the PDNS. This decision allowed us to increase our support of the public sector throughout 2020.

The NCSC’s Active Cyber Defence programme is pioneering and we look forward to playing our part as it treads new ground in years to come.

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For the millions in digital poverty, local lockdowns mean utter isolation

For the millions in digital poverty, local lockdowns mean utter isolation

The debate around levelling up and the UK’s North/South divide has been reignited with a vengeance.

With Greater Manchester pushed into Tier 3 last week along with Lancashire, and Warrington following yesterday, by the end of this week eight million people will be living under the strictest set of lockdown rules, predominantly in the north of England.

While much of the focus has been on the level of financial support awarded to these areas, there is a critical aspect of this divide which has been allowed to slip under the radar: digital poverty. 

The UK’s digital infrastructure has been fundamental in enabling British society to continue operating throughout the pandemic. Whether surfing Netflix or ordering food deliveries to the vulnerable, booking GP video appointments or making the pivot to online learning for school pupils, never before have we as a nation been so reliant on digital solutions. 

But there is a dark side to this British success story. Just as working from home is a privilege enjoyed by those who only need a laptop and Zoom account to conduct their jobs, the vital digital services many of us take for granted are a luxury that millions cannot currently access. 

And the North in particular is bearing the brunt of this inequality. 

The stats are stark. The Lloyds’ Consumer Digital Index 2020 found that nine million people in the UK are “digitally excluded”, with no or limited access to the internet. Of that figure, 40 per cent are based in northern England, in the cities and regions hit hardest by the latest wave of local Tier 3 lockdowns. According to the digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation, just 18 per cent of the residents in the North East of England are able to use the internet fully, compared to 49 per cent in the South East of the country. 

That means that one in four people in northern England will be facing the double restrictions of strict local lockdown and digital poverty. They will have no access to the support of their family and friends, nor to vital healthcare, information, education, financial support, food deliveries, or professional services. 

The consequences of this isolation could be long-lasting. The impact of Covid-19 on the nation’s mental health has already been identified as a worrying trend — being thoroughly cut-off, without even the internet to provide access to sources of emotional support, can only exacerbate this. And with schools considering a return to more remote learning as infections increase, we should remember that it will be nigh on impossible for children to participate in online education without reliable internet access.

The Treasury has been working overtime to develop economic packages to support areas in lockdown, but alongside those efforts, we need to see a concerted effort from the public and private sectors to address the challenge of digital poverty — in the north of England, and across the whole country. 

Collaboration is vital here — across the public and private sectors, on both a centralised and local level. We’ve been working hard with charitable organisations to tackle this issue, and we urge other technology companies to get involved too. We cannot afford to wait.

Ending digital poverty is possible, but action needs to be taken now. If not, the triple attacks of economic disruption, healthcare concerns and digital exclusion risk leaving an entire generation behind. 

For the millions in digital poverty, local lockdowns mean utter isolation Read More »

Safety first at Wired Security

The cyber industry is awash with events and trade shows, but one that really made an impact on me was last week’s Wired Security 2017. This event brought together some of the most inspiring and influential thought leaders in the industry. They shared knowledge, provoked debate and discussed both abstract ideas and very real threats that will help us avoid myopic thinking as we pursue security in an era of cyber vulnerability.  

Nominet was delighted to get involved, and I took part in a panel discussion that tried to answer the hypothetical question; “your company has been breached – now what?” And just as important, how do you make sure you minimise the chances of it happening in the first place? 

Wired are covering the discussion in a forthcoming issue. But it won’t be too much of a spoiler alert to say that along with fellow panellists Jim Wheeler, Angela Sasse and Allison Miller, we covered everything from whether insurance for cyber is worthwhile, how to create corporate ‘muscle memory’ through cyber drills, to using nudge theory to create a culture of security. We were in violent agreement about one thing – that preparation is crucial. 

As a CEO, doing all you can to prepare for a cyber attack is as important as taking responsibility for the aftermath. Accepting the inevitability of a breach at some stage is a crucial first step, and Board directors have a fiduciary duty to do all they can to protect their business. This includes firm, thorough and careful plans to manage, mitigate and recover from an attack.  

At Nominet, we work to create a culture of security, including the aforementioned nudge strategy, introducing changes in an incremental, unobtrusive way, rather than seismic shifts to keep staff on board and allow new procedures to be easily assimilated into daily operations.  

I was struck by the discussion on the complicated issue of insurance against a cyber breach; specifically, is it worth the money spent? It’s a tricky question to answer. Businesses need to have a thorough understanding of the compliance required and know exactly what the entitlement might be. As Angela Sasse pointed out, you can bet the insurance firms have thought it through more carefully than you and you may find you are not entitled to the compensation you’d hoped.  

Our panel formed just one part of a day filled with intriguing speakers. Dmitri Alperovitch from CrowdStrike discussed the different nation-states and the type and level of cyber threat they pose – he said it’s North Korea’s cyber capability keeps him awake at night. We got some fascinating insights into Russian internet culture and the influence of the Kremlin from Red Web’s Andrei Soldatov. We also learnt from Charlie Winter, senior research fellow at ICSR, that IS has a centralised propaganda strategy and makes use of mobile app Telegram to deliver it.  

Google’s Allison Miller made an interesting point in her keynote about considering language use when trying to persuade people to make the right choice in response to everyday cyber threats. Don’t make it too bland; if you have the actionable intelligence, give people more clarity on how they should respond.  

The challenges of cyber security impact all society nationwide and could be seen as one of the most pressing issues of our time. In an industry in which the landscape is always changing, discussions and information sharing are pivotal in helping us all better protect ourselves and maintain the country’s status as a digital leader.

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Girl on phone

SOCIAL MEDIA AND SMARTPHONE DISRUPTIONS COST TEACHERS 11 DAYS’ TEACHING TIME A YEAR

British secondary school teachers spend the equivalent of 11 days’ teaching time every year just dealing with classroom disruptions related to social media and smart devices, according to new research released today by Nominet, the internet company best known for managing the .UK internet infrastructure. Building on last year’s Share with Care campaign, this study aims to highlight the social media issues that are taking place in classrooms across the country.

Classroom disruption

On average, secondary school teachers lose 17.2 minutes of teaching time every day to disruptions caused by social media or smart devices. That equates to 86 minutes every week, and over 11 days of teaching time over the year (assuming five hours of lessons per day, and a 39-week school year).

The disruptions themselves come in many different forms. Almost half (46%) of secondary school teachers have experienced pupils using social media smartphone apps during classes, while four in 10 (40%) have experienced pupils’ confidence being damaged by social media issues. Meanwhile over a quarter (27%) have experienced social media cyber bullying in class and 17% have had pupils sharing explicit or pornographic content. Half of teachers (50%) say that social media issues such as these are contributing to their pupils achieving lower grades than they could.

Resolving social media issues

With so many children on social media platforms, the majority of teachers (58%) have helped to educate their pupils on the associated risks during informal chats or one-to-one tutor time. The most common social media risks they help their pupils deal with are cyber bullying (71%), managing privacy settings (63%), messaging with strangers (63%), profile activity being seen by future employers/universities (58%) and self-esteem issues (56%).

The long term mental impact of social media is a particular cause for concern, with more than half of teachers (57%) saying social media has negatively affected their pupils’ mental health. In addition, three quarters (76%) agree that social media is making children grow up faster, and almost two-thirds (64%) say their pupils struggle to cope with social media pressure.

But many teachers don’t feel equipped to provide the best help. Almost a quarter (24%) said they don’t have the right skills to assist their pupils with these issues, slightly more than those who say that they “definitely” have the right skills (23%). Over half (52%) consider themselves “somewhat” equipped to help.

Are school policies helping?

Teachers aren’t facing social media issues in isolation though, as the vast majority of schools (83%) now have social media/device policies in place. However more than four in 10 teachers at these schools (42%) say these policies are difficult to enforce. More can also be done to help keep these policies relevant. Many social media trends can emerge in a matter of days or weeks, yet one in 10 schools have either never updated their social media policy or update it less often than once every year.

However, teachers themselves have ideas as to how things could improve. Almost three-quarters (72%) think smartphones should be banned from the classroom completely, while almost two-thirds (63%) think schools need dedicated staff to deal with social media and internet issues. However, the biggest difference could actually be made at home, with more than eight in 10 teachers (84%) saying that parents need to do more to help their children understand social media risks.

A silver lining…

Despite many negative issues around social media, more than six in 10 teachers (62%) have tried to use it and similar technologies in a more positive way within the classroom. The most popular activities are using shared online services to collaborate on assignments (72%), creating a joint class or school blog (65%) and using social media sites to gather information or research (65%).

Russell Haworth, CEO, Nominet, comments, “With the new school year just underway, this research should be a wake-up call for all of us about the impact social media is having in schools. It should force us to look at how we can better support teachers to manage the social media problems they face each day in the classroom, as well as safeguarding our children.

“The time spent dealing with the impact of social media during school hours is alarming. Our children need help understanding that there is a time and place for social media and a level of maturity and responsibility required for it. If not, then the consequences could be very damaging. After all, once you see something you can’t ‘unsee’ it, and likewise, once you share something you can’t ‘unshare’ it. Parents and teachers need to help pupils be aware of the pitfalls of social media, and encourage them to always share with care.”

For more information and advice click here.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND SMARTPHONE DISRUPTIONS COST TEACHERS 11 DAYS’ TEACHING TIME A YEAR Read More »

Domain name antics

Domain name antics: Lessons in protecting and promoting your reputation online from the US presidential primaries

Donald Trump has emerged as the Republican nominee in the US presidential race and Hillary Clinton is almost there with the Democratic National Convention to be held this month. Amongst the drama of a spirited and polarising race, what’s there to learn about protecting and promoting your reputation online? Is there, by any chance, a correlation between the savvy acquisition of relevant domain names, and success?

Particularly since Barack Obama’s groundbreaking campaign in 2008, a strong digital strategy is considered integral to successful political campaigning — in the US, and around the world. From building awareness through social media to collecting donations through a campaign website, the internet offers myriad opportunities to influence voters and build support.

The humble domain name is a small but significant ingredient in this. It’s both a signpost to a candidate’s home on the web, and an element of their online brand. At Nominet, we have been looking with interest across the Atlantic at all this high-profile domain name related activity, and we think it’s high time for a round-up of candidates’ domain name strategies. Or lack thereof: the failure of some to secure relevant domains is well documented. So, in no particular order, here are the best/worst (depending on your perspective) domain name antics from the US presidential primaries.

Early Republican favourite Jeb Bush, who bowed out of the race in February, didn’t manage to obtain JebBush.com, which for a while redirected to Trump’s campaign website. He also failed to register JebBushforPresident.com and JebBushforPresident.net, both of which were used to say unflattering things about the candidate. According to the Washington Post, the former is run by “a bearded gay couple who have been ‘madly in love’ since 1996”, to criticise Bush’s position on LGBTQ issues.

Republican runner-up Ted Cruz probably wished he had purchased TedCruzforAmerica.com, a domain with a storied history. First, it redirected to the website for the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare, against which Cruz once led a government shutdown). Next, it redirected to the Canadian Government’s immigration page. It’s currently being used to peddle a dating service called ‘Maple Match’, which “makes it easy for Americans to find the ideal Canadian partner to save them from the unfathomable horror of a Trump presidency.”

Another former Republican contender, Carly Fiorina, suffered a similar experience. Visiting CarlyFiorina.org brought you to a page that read, “Carly Fiorina failed to register this domain. So I’m using it to tell you how many people she laid off at Hewlett-Packard” via 30,000 ‘sad face’ emoticons, which apparently take four and a half minutes to scroll through. This inspired its own hashtag — ‘#domaingate’. But Fiorina fired back at media labelling it a “major gaffe” on the part of her campaign, telling reporters to check HillaryClinton.net, which had mysteriously begun redirecting to Fiorina’s official campaign website. It now redirects to Donald Trump’s campaign website, as does PresidentSanders.com.

Trump himself purchased up to 3,000 domain names, in an effort to stop people discrediting him online. If you’re running for president (or launching a business, product, campaign, or blog), it is a good idea to secure the most relevant domains before someone else does. While there is a case for doing this, an aggressive defense strategy which involves the purchase of domain names that you wouldn’t want anyone else to own is ill-advised, simply due to the sheer number and variety of domains available. Anybody with an axe to grind against a brand – or in this case, a politician – will find a creative way of registering a derogatory website. For example, comedian John Oliver started a campaign to “Make Donald Drumpf again”, arguing that the name ‘Trump’ has a mystique not present in his original family name of ‘Drumpf’, and using the website donaldjdrumpf.com, complete with a browser plugin to change every instance of the word ‘Trump’ to ‘Drumpf’. Another example (perhaps not so creative, but emphatic nonetheless): loser.com currently redirects to the ‘Donald Trump’ page on Wikipedia.

What lessons can businesses learn?

The domain name antics across the Atlantic gives us two main takeaways. The first is that forward planning is essential: make sure your domain strategy forms part of your overall marketing plan.

If you’re launching a new product, check that the relevant domain names are available, and that consumers won’t be confused by similar names. You should also think about what signals you want to send your audience. If your market is in the UK, a .uk domain name might be most suitable. Likewise, if you’re marketing to a Welsh audience, .cymru or .wales may be more appropriate. Perhaps one of the new gTLDs, such as .shop or .expert might be better for your business. Whatever domain ending you choose, check the names you want are free.

While the domain name might only form a small part of your marketing strategy, it is an important one nonetheless, and getting the basics right is key, as the US presidential hopefuls have demonstrated.

The second lesson is to know your rights, especially when facing criticism or exploitation of your brand. As Donald Trump (and Taylor Swift) found out, bulk-buying domain names might prevent some embarrassment, but it isn’t going to stop detractors from having their say. After all, free speech is one of the internet’s most enduring values.

However, there is a line, and when it’s crossed you do have rights. If a protest site is libelling you, or using your name or brand to make money, measures exist to dispute them and cancel their registrations. In general, the registry for the domain in question will have a process for dealing with disputes, based on unfair or abusive use of a brand or trademark.

But, fair protest is generally allowed. For example, in 2014, British laser eye surgery provider Optical Express attempted to force a legitimate protest site offline over allegations that it was funded by a rival. As these were unproven, the website was allowed to remain online. However, in a similar case involving low-cost airline Ryanair, the defendant was forced to hand the domain name ihateryanair.co.uk back as he was found to be earning money through affiliate links to travel insurers.

Being in the public eye – whether as a brand or a politician – may inevitably involve some level of scrutiny, criticism, or attempts to make money off your name. Failures by the Bush, Clinton, Fiorina and Sanders camps to register simple domain names were alarming oversights given the importance of online campaigning in this year’s presidential race. From a branding perspective, it’s the equivalent of Amazon forgetting to register Amazon.com. Although this does happen, as you may recall Google had its own close call recently when a man was able to buy its domain name for $12.

As the unfortunate creators of an online poll to rename a £200m polar research ship will tell you, you can’t predict what will happen on the internet, but there are basic steps you can take to protect yourself.

Russell Haworth is chief executive officer at Nominet

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