The government and large industrial computer networks are facing what the Foreign Office calls a “disturbing” number of attacks, including a serious assault on the agency’s own network.
Iain Lobban of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said that these attacks all represent threats to the economic wellbeing of the UK and UK firms. Lobban went on to say that the sheer amount of recent electronic crime has is enough to be disturbing.
Furthermore, he said that he can personally attest to e-criminals attempting to steal British ideas and designs in the IT, technology, engineering, energy, and defense sectors. Other industries have also been affected.
Lobban also said that e-crimes are sometimes committed to give someone the upper-hand by learning about contractual arrangements in advance. The “secret knowledge” can give competitors a commercial advantage against UK firms, he said.
The GCHQ that Lobban directs is similar to the National Security Agency in the United States, and is an intelligence-gathering, eavesdropping operation. The agency is on the forefront of British cyber defences.
Director Lobban rarely makes public statements, as his comments come a year after he last made a speech about countries using cyber warfare against each other. He continues to say that e-criminals are waging attacks against the government and companies alike.
The Foreign Office was a victim of one of the e-attacks this summer, though ultimately the criminals were unsuccessful in obtaining the “sensitive information” sought after.
These kinds of attacks have been happening in increasing numbers over the last year, and there has been a particularly dramatic increase in cyber attacks linked to governments. Attempts at data theft at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were linked to China, while the computer worm attack on Iran’s nuclear programme was linked to Israel and the United States.
In response, the UK government is holding an international conference on how cyberspace should be managed to prevent e-crime in the future. Prospective attendees are Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, as well as representatives from China, Russia, India, and leading figures from the data detection industry.
The conference is set to discuss greater international cooperation on the issue of tracking and catching cyber crime, but no immediate coalitions are expected to form.