Tyrone security expert Ciaran Martin claims 'significant threat' from Russia, China, Iran, Korea

A Tyrone-born cybersecurity expert has claimed the 'attempted large scale extraction of data' in the United Kingdom and the United States by Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and other unnamed 'potential hostile states' has been a significant feature of the national security landscape in England over the past decade.

Ciaran Martin made the remarks during a briefing of the National Security Bill general committee at Westminster on Thursday.

A former head of cyber security at GCHQ and Chief Executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, Professor Martin was educated at the Christian Brothers Grammar School in Omagh, which he once represented in the MacRory Cup.

Briefing the Westminster National Security Bill committee yesterday, he claimed: "The large scale extraction and interference of data is essentially the risk and the willingness of nation states, principally Russia and China and to a lesser extent Iran, and previously, but not so much recently to my knowledge North Korea and a bunch of, if you like, more up and coming potential hostile states, has been a very significant feature of the national security landscape over the last decade, as I think the head of Mi5 and so forth, emphasised yesterday."

Ciaran Martin

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Asked how big a risk this was, Prof. Martin responded: "One only sees the tip of the iceberg when major breaches go wrong."

He gave the example of an alleged cyberattack on the US by China in 2015 in which he claimed the data of millions of American public servants were obtained.

"If you take the operation, which again was a hybrid operation against the US in 2015 which the US government at the time acknowledged formally, was undertaken by the People's Republic of China. It was the extraction of more than 20 million security clearance records from the Office of Personnel Management in the US, effectively the civil service department for the US Federal Government," said Prof. Martin.

He claimed the security clearance application forms for everyone who had applied for clearance from the US government since 2000 were extracted.

"As a data set it is incredibly rich so if you are part of a commercial data breach it is just your name, email address, possibly a password, maybe not even that, possibly the last four digits of a credit card. If you go through a government security clearance process it's everything.

"Think of the current politics of the US and China and think about the established fact that the Chinese government has this data set of US government personnel and lots of information about them and you can see the strategic impact that that can have and to the best of my knowledge and the best of the sort of public scholarship and disclosure of that incident it was a largely remote operation but it did include some activity on the ground."