The new battlespace: Latest technology drives defence space strategies

An increasing number of military systems are now dependent on space technology, with communications, imagery, precision targeting and friendly force tracking all reliant on satellites and space-based services. 

The same is true for many aspects of modern living, with space technology enabling a diverse range of civilian activities from agriculture to GPS navigation, banking and transportation. 

This growing reliance saw Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announce the launch of the UK’s first Defence Space Strategy and hand over command and control of UK military space operations to defend the UK’s interests in space to RAF Air Command. 

It is envisaged that with Air Command assuming this responsibility, it will lead to the development of a strong pool of qualified and experienced space personnel, engaging internationally in support of these responsibilities. Leads for the management of space-enabled capabilities will remain unchanged, although an important part of the strategy will be to enhance the overall co-ordination of activity across the defence space enterprise. 

Joint Forces Command will continue to be responsible for satellite communications as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, and Air Command for Space Situational Awareness and Space Control capabilities. 

The new strategy is expected to outline plans to protect UK operations against emerging space-based threats such as jamming of civilian satellites used for broadcasters and satellite navigation to support military capabilities. As the reliance on satellites continues to grow, any disruption could lead to severe consequences, whether by natural or man-made hazards or intentional threats from hostile states.  

The Defence Space Strategy will examine how the UK can work with allies across NATO and the Five-Eyes Partnership to protect and defend mutual space interests. 

The Defence Secretary also outlined his plans to increase the 500 personnel currently working in the UK defence space sector by a fifth over the next five years, taking the total to over 600. 

Mr Williamson explained the move: “We must make sure we are primed and ready to deter and counter the intensifying threats to our everyday life that are emerging in space. That’s why I’m announcing the RAF is taking the lead in this area and why we plan to increase the number of personnel covering space. 

“Satellite technology is not just a crucial tool for our Armed Forces but vital to our way of life, whether that be access to our mobile phones, the internet or television. It is essential we protect our interests and assets from potential adversaries who seek to cause major disruption and do us harm.” 

The threat from superpowers such as Russia and China as they pursue their own space warfighting capabilities as well as other actors looking to carry out counter-space capabilities such as jamming, dazzling and cyber attacks means the UK is far from alone in turning its attention to space in matters of defence. 

Following the news that Russian reconnaissance satellites had encroached on the Athena-Fidus Franco-Italian communications satellite in a spying operation in 2017, the French Joint Space Command and Ministry of Defence are expected to hand over a space defence strategy for government approval before the end of the year. Little is known of what will be contained within the document but it is expected to focus on the necessity to provide greater protection to French satellites. 

Unsurprisingly, the world’s biggest spender on defence, the United States, recently announced its intention to create a Space Force – effectively a new arm of the US military on a par with the more traditional forces of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. 

President Trump made the announcement during a meeting of the National Space Council on 18 June 2018. Mr Trump said it was not enough that the United States had a presence in space; it should instead exert ‘dominance’. 

Vice President Mike Pence fleshed the plan out in greater detail in a speech at the Pentagon in August. He said the Space Force would meet “the rising security threats our nation faces in space today and in the future”. 

Following the Vice President’s speech, the Pentagon in turn released a report detailing how the US Department of Defense will support these ambitions. 

The report states: “It is imperative that the United States adapts its policies, doctrine, and capabilities to protect our interests. Towards that end, the Department of Defense will marshal spaces resources into a Space Force. The Space Force will protect our economy through deterrence of malicious activities, ensure our space systems meet national security requirements, and provide vital capabilities to joint and coalition forces across the spectrum of conflict.” 

Currently, the responsibility for US space operations sits with the Air Force Space Command. The move to create an independent Space Force has drawn comparisons with the birth of the US Air Force from the US Army. The USAF began life as the US Army Air Corps – the aerial warfare section of the US Army – but the advancing technology and growing strategic importance led to the Air Force becoming the fifth branch of the US Armed Forces in 1947. 

So too, the pressing need to protect critical assets in space, especially in light of the actions of Russia and China, means that the creation of a dedicated space branch of the US military feels inevitable.  

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Defence Secretary reveals £400m investment for nuclear-armed submarines

The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced a £400 million funding boost for the Dreadnought programme, as he opened a new training academy and revealed the name of the second Dreadnought submarine.

The planned funding release, which supports the building phase of the programme, came as the Defence Secretary unveiled a £25 million BAE Systems academy that will upskill employees to work on Royal Navy submarines for the next two decades.

The £400million investment will safeguard more than 8,000 jobs in Barrow and across the UK, which are all supported by the £31billion Dreadnought programme and supply chain.

The announcement was made during the Defence Secretary’s visit to BAE Systems’ site in Barrow-in-Furness, where he also named the second Dreadnought submarine as HMS Valiant.

Mr Williamson said: “Next year marks half-a-century since British nuclear-armed submarines began patrolling the waters in response to the danger posed by the Cold War – and the world is again facing a raft of intensifying threats.

“This £400m investment will ensure the Dreadnought programme remains on track, so we continue to have a nuclear deterrent at sea for decades to come. Not only does today’s news see us safeguard 8,000 jobs right now, but I have also opened a brand new multi-million-pound facility to train Britain’s submarine engineers of the future.”

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QinetiQ to provide combat systems support to UK aircraft carriers

Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers have been added to the Naval Combat Systems Integration Support Service (NCSISS), QinetiQ has confirmed.

The NCSISS dates back to 2012, and it has been delivered by BAE Systems and QinetiQ and in collaboration with Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) ever since. The service removes risk in the development, integration and testing of ship mission systems and enables the Royal Navy to deploy and take full advantage of the latest technologies.

The £9 million contract extension will see the Royal Navy’s flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and its sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, added to the advanced systems testing and evaluation programmes being delivered by QinetiQ and its partners based at Portsdown Technology Park.

According to Steve Fitz-Gerald, QinetiQ Managing Director of Maritime, Land and Weapons: “The success of the NCSISS has enabled us and our partners to ensure the UK Royal Navy’s surface fleet is at peak operational performance at all times. Receiving confirmation of the contract extension which includes the largest warships in the Fleet demonstrates the unique capabilities, resources and expertise we have at Portsdown Technology Park.”

Jo Osburn, Head of Maritime Combat Systems at Defence Equipment and Support added: “Extending the NCSISS arrangement to include the Queen Elizabeth-Class aircraft carriers has provided a facility to test and assure new capabilities ahead of instillation into the platform.

“QinetiQ’s role in supporting the Combat System Enterprise through NCSISS will enable agile Operational Support to this new class of warship for her current equipment, as well as de-risking the addition of the new systems and equipment planned in the near to medium term”

The contract extension for the two aircraft carriers will cover a range of advanced communications systems for the planning and delivery of joint air and maritime activities and other critical operations. The work will also cover the combat management systems and weapon control systems, as is already the case with other platforms in the Royal Navy’s surface fleet.

Image courtesy of Ian Stewart /

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US Navy awards critical communications contracts to BAE Systems

The US Navy has hired BAE Systems to integrate and sustain critical communications systems across its military vehicles and command centres.

Under two single-award indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts, BAE Systems will support command, control, communications, computers, combat systems, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C5ISR) systems on behalf of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD). Together, these awards have a potential value of over $150 million.

The first award, LCS CONUS, is a five-year contract to provide life cycle sustainment across military and commercial based communications platforms within the US and overseas. These systems are used by the US Navy, Special Operations Forces, Homeland Security, and other Department of Defense (DoD) and non-defense agencies. The IDIQ contract has a maximum value of $83 million.

“Our engineers specialise in providing custom, tailor-made C5ISR solutions to help close communications capability gaps for the US military,” said Mark Keeler, Vice President and General Manager of BAE Systems’ Integrated Defense Solutions business. “BAE Systems takes pride in keeping the lines of communication open for those on the front lines of national security.”

BAE Systems has also secured a place on a five-year IDIQ to provide rapid integration and production services for C5ISR systems aboard small and large militarized vehicles and air platforms. Much of the work will take place within NAWCAD’s Special Communications Mission Solutions Division at St Inigoes, Maryland – also known as the Special Communications Rapid Integration Facility (SCRIF).

Remaining work will take place in Jacksonville, Florida, providing direct support to the local Fleet Readiness Center (FRC). BAE Systems will be tasked with supporting mobile, fixed-base stations, various fixed and rotary wing air platforms, and large command centers deployed around the world. The IDIQ contract has a maximum value of $68 million.

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UK will no longer seek access to secure aspects of Galileo

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has confirmed the UK will not use Galileo for defence or critical national infrastructure after Brexit.

Instead, the UK will explore options to build its own Global Navigation Satellite System that can help guide military drones, run energy networks and provide essential services for civilian smart phones. It will also work with the US to continue accessing its trusted GPS system.

UK Space Agency (UKSA) is currently leading the work, with the full support of the Ministry of Defence, and any British system will provide both open and encrypted signals, giving it the same range of commercial and security applications as GPS and Galileo.

British Armed Forces were due to have access to Galileo’s encrypted system when it is fully operational in 2026. However the National Cyber Security Centre and Ministry of Defence have concluded it would not be in the UK’s security interests to use the system’s secure elements if it had not been fully involved in their development.

In August, the Prime Minister tasked British engineering and aerospace experts to develop options and set aside £92 million for the plans. Since then over fifty UK companies have expressed interest in the project and a series of key contracts are now being tendered.

The Prime Minister said: “I have been clear from the outset that the UK will remain firmly committed to Europe’s collective security after Brexit.

“But given the Commission’s decision to bar the UK from being fully involved in developing all aspects of Galileo it is only right that we find alternatives.

“I cannot let our Armed Services depend on a system we cannot be sure of. That would not be in our national interest. And as a global player with world-class engineers and steadfast allies around the world we are not short of options.”

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Kier VolkerFitzpatrick and HLM appointed to £160m RAF Lakenheath project

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation has chosen the team for the £160 million Ministry of Defence project to build an F-35 flight simulator, maintenance unit, new hangars and storage facilities at RAF Lakenheath.

HLM will work alongside the Engineering and construction firm Kier VolkerFitzpatrick to design and deliver the new facilities.

The Suffolk airbase will be the first permanent international site for US Air Force F-35s in Europe. The flight simulator will have the capacity to link to other simulators used by pilots across the UK and beyond, allowing expertise to be shared and pilots from the UK and US to train together.

Managing Director of Aviation and Defence at Kier, James Hindes, said: “It builds on our extensive expertise in the defence sector delivering first-class projects within secure environments including facilities at MoD Lyneham and RAF Shawbury.”

Mick Scherdel, Director at HLM, said: “Since the Defence Academy 2000, HLM has been improving and enhancing training, living and learning across the UK Defence Estates.  RAF Lakenheath will benefit further from our recent experience on Project Wellesley, DCLPA Worthy Down and Catterick Garrison” 

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood said: “This investment will see substantial benefits to the local economy, bringing 1,000 new personnel with their families and we will work hard to ensure that the benefits will last long after construction ends.”

At the height of construction, it is expected that there will be up to 700 personnel on site.

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Lockheed Martin secures US Army exoskeleton development agreement

Lockheed Martin has won a contract worth $6.9 million from the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) to enhance the ONYX exoskeleton for future soldier demonstrations.

ONYX is a powered, lower-body exoskeleton with artificial intelligence (AI) technology that augments human strength and endurance.

Under the two-year, sole-source agreement, Lockheed Martin will optimize ONYX components. The improvements will be evaluated by the University of Florida in advance of NSRDEC soldier demonstrations scheduled for 2019.

Developed by Lockheed Martin through a license from B-TEMIA, ONYX counteracts overstress on the lower back and legs. Using electro-mechanical knee actuators, a suite of sensors, and an AI computer, ONYX learns user movements and delivers the right torque at the right time to assist with walking up steep inclines, lifting or dragging heavy loads. An independent study by the University of Michigan confirmed these benefits by showing how ONYX users exerted less energy while walking up an incline with a 40-pound backpack.

Keith Maxwell, Exoskeleton Technologies Program Manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said: “Innovative human/machine technologies like ONYX can improve human performance, decrease injury and reduce fatigue to help soldiers accomplish physically demanding tasks. This award brings us one step closer to equipping future forces with advanced exoskeleton capabilities.”

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Hiding in Plain Sight: How artificial intelligence unearthed a global espionage plot

As cyber espionage becomes more prevalent and the methods used more sophisticated, analysts at Symantec are beginning to explore how artificial intelligence and machine learning could thwart potential attacks more quickly. 

According to the Security Response Attack Investigation Team at Symantec, groups engaged in cyber espionage have grown wise to traditional detection techniques, opting instead to exploit the features or administrative tools inherent in an operating system to compromise networks more discreetly. It’s a shrewd approach Symantec has dubbed ‘living off the land’. Doing so enables hackers to disguise their activities amid a ‘sea of legitimate processes’; and as more hackers adopt this approach, the process of attributing attacks and distinguishing one group from another becomes all the more muddled. 

While this trend doesn’t necessarily mean espionage attacks are going undiscovered, it does mean that they can take longer for analysts to investigate. Hence Symantec’s Targeted Attack Analytics (TAA) technology, which applies advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning to sift through data streams and distinguish targeted attack patterns with greater efficiency. 

So far, artificial intelligence has proven to be a force multiplier in the fight against cyber espionage. In January, TAA queried routine activity on the network of a large telecoms operator in Southeast Asia. Hackers had attempted to exploit PsExec to move laterally between computers, it later emerged. For the uninitiated, PsExec is a dedicated Microsoft Sysinternals tool able to execute processes on other systems. Unfortunately, its legitimacy has made the tool a frequent target for those looking to live off the land. 

TAA was not only able to identify the breach, however; it was also able to explain to Symantec the hackers’ methods. They had attempted to remotely install a piece of previously unknown malware (Infostealer.Catchamas) on computers linked to the company’s network. Armed with this knowledge, Symantec was able to broaden its search criteria and cast a global net in the hope of identifying similar instances. Soon, analysts had uncovered a wide-ranging campaign of cyber espionage which saw powerful malware used to unsettling effect.  

Symantec has since christened the organisation responsible ‘Thrip’, presumably in reference to the garden pest of the same name. Thrip was tracked to China, where Symantec linked three terminals to cyber attacks with a similar modus operandi. Targets included organisations operating in the communications, geospatial imaging and defence sectors, both in the United States and Southeast Asia. 

“This is likely espionage,” confirmed Symantec CEO Greg Clark. “The Thrip group has been working since 2013 and their latest campaign uses standard operating system tools, so targeted organisations won’t notice their presence. They operate very quietly, blending into networks, and are only discovered using artificial intelligence that can identify and flag their movements. Alarmingly, the group seems keenly interested in telecoms, satellite operators and defence companies. We stand ready to work with appropriate authorities to address this serious threat.” 

According to Symantec, the most troubling discovery was the suspected targeting of a satellite communications operator. Here, the operational side of the business was of particular interest to Thrip. Hackers had attempted to infiltrate computers running software used to monitor and control active satellites. For Symantec, this revelation has big implications – it suggests that Thrip’s motives go beyond espionage and may even include disruption. 

Elsewhere, a second organisation – this time specialising in geospatial imaging and mapping – was targeted. Again, Thrip took great interest in the operational side of things. Computers running MapXtreme Geographic Information System (GIS) software – used to develop custom geospatial applications or integrate location-based data into other applications – were waylaid, as were machines running Google Earth Server and Garmin imaging software. 

Thrip went on to target three separate Southeast Asia-based telecoms operators. In each instance, based on the nature of the computers compromised by Thrip, it appeared that the telecoms companies themselves – and not their customers – were the intended targets of the attacks. Finally, Symantec identified a fourth target of interest – a defence contractor – though the specifics of that attack have yet to be disclosed. 

Whether any of this would have been possible without Symantec’s Targeted Attack Analytics technology remains to be seen. But artificial intelligence and machine learning certainly have the potential to tip the scales of cyberspace in security’s favour. Anyone operating in the defence sector, where security is of critical importance, would be wise to take note. 

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Defence Minister reveals HMS Sheffield as new warship

The Defence Minister Stuart Andrew has announced the name of a future world-beating British warship as HMS Sheffield.

Built on centuries of history, the state-of-the-art submarine hunter will be the fourth ship to carry the name, and will be Britain’s fifth state-of-the-art Type 26 frigate.

The Defence Minister announced the news at Chesterfield Special Cylinders in Sheffield, a key supplier to the multi-billion-pound Type 26 programme. The company makes high pressure gas storage systems for the ships.

All of the Type 26 frigates will be built on the Clyde, supported by suppliers across the country and securing decades of work for more than 4,000 people. The first three ships have already been ordered for £3.7 billion.

Mr Andrew said: “HMS Sheffield will be at the forefront of our world leading Royal Navy for decades to come, providing cutting edge protection for our aircraft carriers and nuclear deterrent, and offering unrivalled capability at sea.

“From north to south, these ships are truly a national endeavour, built on centuries of British expertise and supporting thousands of businesses like Chesterfield Special Cylinders across the UK.

“Defence boosts the economy of Yorkshire and the Humber economy by £232 million every year and it’s only right the region’s significant contribution to our national security is recognised by the naming of HMS Sheffield.”

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Cyber Security – understanding the threats

Zeki Turedi, Technology Strategist, CrowdStrike takes a look at the most prevalent cybersecurity issues, highlighting threats, appropriate responses and prevention. 


The UK is currently on the front line for cyber attacks. The amount of intellectual property and personal data we hold are a key target for threat actors, and recently we’ve seen a huge uptick in cyber attacks across a multitude of business sectors. Within our current tumultuous political climate, this comes as no surprise.

The propagation of advanced exploits and easy use and accessibility of malicious tools, has lead to the blurring of tactics between statecraft and tradecraft, revolutionising the threat landscape. As threats modernise and revolutionise, so too must our tactics to defend against them, as it is evident that traditional approaches to security are failing. Look no further than the regular news articles reporting on everyday brands we use every day, being targeted and leaving hundreds of thousands of the public’s data being stolen..

Today’s adversaries are persistent in their mission to target and infiltrate UK businesses – predominantly the technology sector – with a 36 per cent increase in attacks over the past six months. Organisations can no longer rely on reactive approaches to stay protected. Instead, they need to start with an assumption that someone might have already breached their perimeter and instigate a work back plan that outlines the necessary steps to remediate and prevent such attacks crippling UK services again.

Recent research from CrowdStrike’s OverWatch threat analysts provides key insights into attacker tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). The study shows that the technology, professional services and hospitality sectors were most targeted by cyber adversaries, with actors using a torrent of novel tactics and demonstrating particular creativity and perseverance in defence-evasion and credential-access TTPs. We’ve used this data to assess the current cyber climate, showing which actors are on the rise and what tactics organisations can leverage to defend themselves.


Keeping track of current cyber trends

Recently, the National Cyber Security Centre revealed that whilst tackling a weekly barrage of cyberattacks, it has been able to trace a number of these back to hostile nation-state actors. We know that the threat of nation-backed cyber espionage is a real and pressing one, with 48 percent of intrusion cases being performed by adversaries operating within a certain nation-state nexus. The reality of such attacks is that they are quick and potentially destructive, and our economy simply isn’t prepared to handle them.

However governments around the world are fighting back. Once reluctant to point fingers after a cyberattack, a number of states have issued a string of indictments in recent months relating to several high-profile breaches and attributing large-scale attacks to their hackers. For example, the US charged a number of Russian military officers last month for allegedly hacking into a select group of sports-related organisations. The indictment followed statements made by the British and Dutch governments backing the US and accusing Russia’s military intelligence agency of targeting a range of political and media organisations with cyberattacks. Even more recently, we’ve seen the US charge ten Chinese spies for hacking into aviation firms in the UK, US, France and Australia using “phishing” techniques to steal trade secrets and confidential data.


Chinese adversaries on the rise

The tenacity of the adversaries in question is also concerning. Our analysis, which compared thousands of cyberattacks over the first half of this year, highlighted a significant uptick from Chinese threat adversaries. It shows that China is actively engaging in targeted and persistent intrusion attempts against multiple sectors of the economy, including biotech, defence, mining, pharmaceutical, professional services, transportation, and more.

Currently, the Ministry of State Security (MSS) is the primary government agency engaged in the majority of cyber attacks within Chinese-government nexus, and our threat team has observed multiple intrusions demonstrating sophisticated tradecraft of this nature.

China is now, once again, the most prolific nation-state actor conducting industrial espionage via cyber and non-cyber means. Chinese threat actors pose a long-term and strategic threat, not only to the UK, but to the global economy. These specific threats need to be addressed by every enterprise who may become either a victim or a vector to target further victims in the ecosystem.


Emerging best practices

Understanding the threat landscape on a global scale is a valuable resource for all organisations when it comes to fighting cyber threats. From a more strategic perspective, it helps security teams learn and develop scope to create new hunting and detection methodologies which in turn  increase investigation efficiency against persistent cyber adversaries.

One of the key metrics that OverWatch tracks for all intrusions it identifies is “breakout time” – the time it takes for an intruder to begin moving laterally outside of the initial beachhead to other systems in the network. The current average for this is one hour and 58 minutes. This simple piece of information in turn becomes a valuable metric for any security team responding to incidents. Simply, organisations should strive to detect, investigate and remediate the intrusion within two hours, they can stop the adversary before they can cause serious damage and an incident becomes a breach!

Emerging best practice advises that when an attack is in progress an organisation should aim for one minute to detect it, ten minutes to understand it, and one hour to contain it. The reality is that within today’s threat landscape, cyber attacks are not a question of if, but when hackers will bypass traditional security means and gain access to the network.

From the technology side, regardless of how advanced the defence is, there’s a chance that attackers will slip through to gain access. Conventional defenses don’t know and can’t see when this happens, resulting in silent failure. When this occurs, it can allow attackers to dwell for even months without raising an alarm. The solution lies in continuous and comprehensive visibility into what is happening on your endpoints in real time with a Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), following an approach recommended by analysts including Gartner.

Likewise AI helps bring down the time taken to find suspicious behaviours, and allows enterprises without a dedicated threat hunting team the ability to continuously examine the environment for signs of compromise. Take into consideration the 1-10-60 metric, only by harnessing modern technologies and techniques can we make sure our Incident Response teams are able to quickly react, validate and have operational high efficacy by utilising Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

One more key technology that enables better security practices is the cloud. By crowdsourcing intelligence based on events gathered from a large array of security sensors worldwide a crowdsourced threat graph of live and new attacks helps an AI-enabled platform keep ahead of threats and help protect critical data on day one of the threat.


The future for cyber security

Although larger organisations typically have greater resources allocated for security, such as bigger budgets and more manpower, they certainly aren’t immune to breaches. Next-generation solutions must include behavioural analytics and machine learning capabilities that can detect both known and unknown threats. These make for a vital tool that can give security teams the visibility they need to detect and eject an adversary before breakout occurs.

AI capabilities are also becoming more powerful and increasingly widespread. If properly managed and leveraged, AI can be a real amplifier for cyber teams. With AI, you can analyse security related data, including file “features” and behavioural indicators over a massive data set. AI-based defence is not a panacea, and to cope with the volume and variety of threats organisations must understand their network and assets, and be able to automate their response and detection capabilities for all kinds of threats.

As criminals and adversaries change strategy, so must we. There is a vast amount of innovation and momentum within the cybersecurity space, and more and more products are coming to market to help protect organisations from these pressing and concerning threats. All that is left is for businesses across the world to accept these and adopt them into their infrastructure. The time to act is now, not tomorrow.


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