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MI5 boss: Cyber spies, web-enabled crooks threaten UK economy

Security Service head warns of organised hacker peril

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The Director General of MI5 said that both business and government was on the front line of cyber attacks – and that assaults by both criminal hackers and foreign governments had reached an industrial scale.

Delivering Lord Mayor’s Annual Defence and Security Lecture in London last night, Jonathan Evans revealed that MI5 is investigating cyber attacks against more than a dozen companies. He added that one major (unnamed) London business had suffered £800m in losses following an attack.

Britain’s National Security Strategy ranks cyber security alongside terrorism as a "tier-one security challenge faced by the UK" for good reason, Evans explained.

"Vulnerabilities in the internet are being exploited aggressively, not just by criminals but also by states. And the extent of what is going on is astonishing – with industrial-scale processes involving many thousands of people lying behind both state-sponsored cyber espionage and organised cyber crime," Evans warned.

"This is a threat to the integrity, confidentiality and availability of government information but also to business and to academic institutions. What is at stake is not just our government secrets but also the safety and security of our infrastructure, the intellectual property that underpins our future prosperity and the commercially sensitive information that is the life-blood of our companies and corporations."

As the internet extends its reach beyond computers and servers to cars, traffic management systems, ATMs and industrial control systems, the scope of threats is only likely to increase, said Evans. He said that to date, terrorists had made use of cyber attacks as a weapon but said it could happen in the future.

"So far, established terrorist groups have not posed a significant threat in this medium, but they are aware of the potential to use cyber vulnerabilities to attack critical infrastructure and I would expect them to gain more capability to do so in future," he said.

MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5) works with GCHQ, the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, the Department for Energy and Climate Change and also with law enforcement – through the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure – to respond to cyber security threats and disseminate best practice. The intelligence agency boss said that the private sector had a key role to play in tackling cyber crime, saying businesses could help make the UK more resilient to cyber attacks.

Evan's speech (transcript here) also covered the threat of terrorism more generally and as related to the upcoming Olympics. ®

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