HC Deb 25 January 1999 vol 324 cc8-9
5. Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)

What steps are being taken to counter the threat of information warfare. [65528]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar)

As I explained to the hon. Lady in the Adjournment debate on information warfare on 4 November 1998, the Ministry of Defence has a wide range of measures in place to protect its systems from the threat of information warfare.

Mrs. Lait

If a 15-year-old can break an encryption code, is the Minister worried that the defence encryption codes could be equally easily broken? If a pilotless Tornado is run by software that could be written abroad and hence be open to malign interference, does that concern him? When can we expect the statement that I was promised in that Adjournment debate—a promise that was repeated by two civil servants a month later? How short is shortly?

Mr. Spellar

Very shortly. As I said in that Adjournment debate, the Government attach great importance to the protection of key information technology systems both in government and in the private sector, and we will very shortly announce new initiatives to enhance the defence of the critical national infrastructure against the risk of a disabling electronic attack.

We have several mechanisms for protecting information systems, one of which is restricting access. There are differences between the systems here and in other countries, and we have greater physical protections, so we cannot read across into this country from experiences abroad. We also undertake rigorous examination and checking of the software that is put in our equipment; and of course the Y2K problem is very much occupying the attention of our information technology people at this very moment.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

On information warfare, but much closer to home, does the Minister consider that it would be a futile exercise to caution the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister with responsibility for security about their foolhardiness in disseminating operational information for political reasons? Does he recognise the fact that currently and, more especially, in the future, if the violence escalates once again, soldiers' lives will be jeopardised by those Ministers—his colleagues—making public statements about operational matters? Is not it about time that the two Ministers concerned stopped pandering to the IRA in order to keep the ceasefire going?

Mr. Spellar

We certainly do not recognise that situation. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman and the House that no Ministers in the Government would ever jeopardise in any way the operations or the security of our forces.