GCHQ spy boss warns over "disturbing" cyber attacks

The boss of the country’s biggest intelligence agency has warned of a “disturbing” increase in attacks that could jeopardise Britain’s “economic well-being”.

Iain Lobban highlighted the growing problem of cyber attacks on the government, citing a “significant” attack on the Foreign Office over the summer.

He noted an increase in the number of e-crime attempts to steal valuable information from government sources, as well as from private firms, writing in the Times.  This included attempts at intellectual property theft on a number of engineering, energy and defence contract firms.

Foreign Secretary William Hague also noted an “exponential rise” in the number of incidents, and flagged up HMRC’s tax database as being especially liable to attack.

Both were highlighting concerns over cyber security ahead of a two-day conference starting on Tuesday which will focus on the escalating problem.  Some big names such as European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, Hilary Clinton, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, and Cisco vice president Brad Boston, according to the BBC.

Security concerns have been raised on a global scale recently with fears over a close relative of the Stuxnet virus, Duqu, being found, though some claim the two not to be linked. 

According to security expert Graham Cluley at Sophos, the government needs to ensure that defences are kept up on an individual level in order to keep up the constant battle of fending off cyber attacks.

“There is never such a thing as a 100 percent defence.  There is always a risk.  But there are defensible steps that can be made by educating people in how to prevent systems from being compromised.” 

“Individual users need to be aware of the importance in keeping security update current, as well as making sure that antivirus software is up to date and so forth.”

Cluley believes that Lobban’s warnings of an increased cyber-threat are correct, with constant attempts to steal valuable information.

“This is nothing he hasn’t said before, but a continued and ongoing warning to make sure that the government is properly defended.  These are not just kids that are trying to hack into systems, and they could certainly wish to harm the UK.”

“But it is difficult to know when attacks have been made.  It is not a case of thieves making off with the Mona Lisa and leaving an empty space, it is hard to see when data is copied.”

“The way that organisation need to work is to assume the worst in this sense and work from there.”