Britain’s national power and water infrastructure is the target of attacks by foreign computer hackers, government officials have warned.
The country needs to become more “cyber savvy” in the face of the threats of “hostile foreign states and others”, Cabinet Minister Francis Maude said.
“The internet transforms the risk we face. It is why we have rated attacks from cyberspace one of the top four threats to our national security,” he said ahead of the launch of the government’s updated cyber security strategy, which will include fresh measures to improve the UK’s ability to detect and defeat “high-end threats”.
He added: “We are in a race to build sufficient cyber defences to match the growing volume and dependence of our online economic, security and social interests.
“It’s a race we can only win by working together: Government, industry, academia and the public. This is as much a shared responsibility as a shared effort.”
Officials would not be drawn on the countries involved although it has been reported that both Russia and China have carried out the reconnaissance necessary to mount a cyber attack on the US’s national infrastructure.
“There is still a concern about a determined attack against the critical national infrastructure,” said one UK official.
Officials say they now spend “an awful lot of time” advising Britain’s infrastructure companies to guard against such online onslaughts.
Earlier this year Foreign Secretary William Hague and Business Secretary Vince Cable called in the chairmen and chief executives of FTSE 100 companies for a briefing in the Foreign Office to spell out the dangers including the online theft of valuable intellectual property and commercially sensitive information.
At the same time ministers want to highlight the commercial potential of Britain’s growing expertise in cyber security to boost exports around the world.