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Explainer: How is Ireland's response to the threat of global cyber crime coordinated?

The fight back against the HSE cyber attack is a multi agency operation.

Image: Shutterstock/Elnur

IRELAND’S CYBER DEFENCES have come into stark focus in recent days as they deal with the HSE ransomware attack.

But how does the country’s law enforcement and national security apparatus confront the threat?

We’ve been taking a closer look at the mechanisms and systems designed to deal with the problem: 

NCSC 

The system is guided by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) with the lead agencies being the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána.

The Defence Forces deal with cyber defence which is dedicated to finding and monitoring incoming threats, particularly from State actors who may want to target Ireland for any number of reasons.

The lead unit on this is the Communications and Information Services Corps in the army.

They also have a function of gathering and disseminating information gathered by international partners. The Defence Forces intelligence section, J2, also feeds data into the system.

A number of political representatives, including Deputy Cathal Berry, a former Defence Forces officer, have been critical about the lack of manpower in the CIS Corps.

Garda 

The garda side of the mission is focused on the criminal issues, their role is to find criminals engaged in cyber-attacks and other cyber orientated crime. This is handled by the National Cyber Crime Bureau.

They received an injection of funding at the start of the year and an increase in manpower to meet the demands. They are led by Chief Superintendent Paul Cleary who is well known in the force having been an instrumental part of the team that brought Kinahan murderer Freddie Thompson to justice along with other notable members of that gang.

There are 59 members of this unit and they are further backed up by 20 or so civilian staff. The civilian staff are experts recruited from the private sector who have extensive cyber security experience while many of the gardaí have completed University courses, including masters, in computing.

Sources have said that much of their work is focused on playing a part in current serious crime investigations. The establishment of the unit is an effort to solve the backlog in dealing with forensic examinations of devices and also identifying criminals involved.

Until recently there was a tiny group involved in national support work with many of the examinations of devices linked to crime being done on a so-called temporary or – to use a term well-known among gardaí – ‘buckshee’ basis.    

The cyber attack on the HSE is suspected, according to sources, to have originated from an organised crime group based in Russia.

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The response from the State also involves bringing in an international cyber security company who are attempting to find a way to cancel the criminal gang’s encryption.

Sources across the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána have strongly criticised the current system as an underfunded and poorly realised effort by Government.

“There has been a lot of platitudes spoken about this at Governmental level. The proof of their commitment is in the fact that they have not appointed a leader for the NCSC and the centre doesn’t have a dedicated building, a centre without a centre.

“There is also a significant problem around the amount of staff inside the Defence Forces capable of dealing with this issue. So in effect the NCSC is non functioning and there is this flurry of activity just trying to get the various units and bureaus to work together,” a senior garda source said.

A diplomatic solution is also part of the response with a lot of the focus on finding solutions from international partners, especially via the UK and the EU.

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