George Osborne outlines threat to Government’s IT systems

George Osborne on Monday outlined the extent to which the Government’s IT systems are under attack from hackers, saying that more than 20,000 “malicious emails” are sent to its networks each month.

The Chancellor said that last year saw “hostile intelligence agencies” make hundreds of “serious and pre-planned attempts to break into the Treasury’s computer system”, which he said averaged out at “more than one attempt per day”.

Speaking at the opening of Google’s Zeitgeist event yesterday, the Chancellor outlined government plans to publish a wealth of data online and to make government services “digital by default”. But, alluding to high-profile cases of data loss like that seen recently at Sony, he pointed out that the Government “must get the security question right”.

He also announced the appointment of the former head of Barack Obama’s Open Government Initiative Beth Noveck to help implement the changes, which he called a “world-class appointment”.

In February this year, Foreign Secretary William Hague told a conference in Munich that the Government’s computers were infected by a virus last year, which was transferred via email. He said the infection was cleared up but added that “more sophisticated attacks such as these are becoming more common”. The extent to which that is affecting government systems, which hold sensitive data, was revealed by Mr Osborne.

He added that the Treasury is “one of the most targeted departments across Whitehall”. Mr Osborne outlined one example last year when, he said, a “perfectly legitimate G20-related email” was sent to the Treasury.

“Within minutes it appeared that the email had been re-sent to the same distribution list. In fact, in the second email the legitimate attachment had been swapped for a file containing malicious code,” said Mr Osborne.

He added that the two looked almost identical to the untrained eye but that the Treasury’s security systems identified the attack and stopped it.

According to reports, a similar attack aimed at the French Finance Ministry and the European Council last year got past the security systems of 150 computers ahead of the G20 summit. An anonymous French government official was quoted as saying that it had been “noted that a certain amount of the information was redirected to Chinese sites”.

During a speech, given to internet entrepreneurs, the Chancellor said he was “determined to get the security question right” announced and reiterated the Government’s commitment to launching a £650m National Cyber Security Programme to enhance its online security.

Graham Cluley, an internet security expert at Sophos, pointed out the risk that “one of the targeted government attacks could steal sensitive information from government computers and put it in the hands of unknown parties”. But he noted out that the number of attacks quoted by the Chancellor is not unusual for an organisation of the government’s size.

He referred to GCHQ figures which suggest that only around five per cent of the attacks – around 1,000 per month – are specifically targeted against government departments, rather than as part of more speculative “scattergun” attacks.

Mr Cluley accused the government of traditionally being “slow to follow best practice” in online security. In a blog post, he recommended that the government review its security tools to meet the threat, warning that it should take a “close look at its computers and applications to ensure that they are properly patched against vulnerabilities.

He wrote: “One key question I would pose, for instance, is whether the web browser and PDF viewer being used by the British Government is properly up-to-date and patched. That’s even before we consider Microsoft Office, Java, Adobe Flash, etc etc ad nauseum.

“In early 2010, the British Government was strongly criticised for its unwillingness to upgrade from the chronically insecure Internet Explorer 6, and thousands of people signed a petition calling on government departments to upgrade their browsers.

“It’s unclear whether all UK Government departments are now up-to-date in the browsers and other application they use, but it seems to me that if their computers are being attacked by foreign powers with boobytrapped documents and dangerous links that to do anything less would be negligent in the extreme.

Mr Osborne’s speech came just hours after Sony’s popular PlayStation Network was tentatively returned to service after hackers shut it down last month. Around 100 million accounts were compromised and credit card details and other personal information stolen in what is thought to be the biggest online security breach ever.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Voices
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
Extras
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
News
people
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
News
people... and stop them from attacking people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?