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UK Politics

Spooks to show businesses how to fight cyber attacks

GCHQ experts will advise private sector in groundbreaking scheme to counter rising threat

GCHQ, the Government's electronic intelligence unit, is to take a lead role in advising Britain's senior business leaders on how to counter the growing threat of cyber attacks.

A programme unveiled today –which also marks the first occasion the Government and the intelligence services have worked directly in such a way with the private sector – is expected to lead the way for extended co-operation in the future.

The launch of Cyber Security for Business, which will be attended by CEOs and chairs of FTSE 100 companies, ministers and officials from the security and intelligence agencies, follows growing concern over the threat of cyber warfare and its toll on the British economy. It is estimated to cost the country £27bn a year.

The Commons Intelligence and Security Committee concluded in its last report that the UK's defences remained inadequate despite a £650m national cyber security programme.

Separately Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, has disclosed an "astonishing" level of both state and criminal cyber attacks and that one assault alone has cost a London business an estimated £800m.

The blueprint drawn up by GCHQ will focus on the "Top 20 Critical Controls for Effective Cyber Defence" which, it is claimed, "can substantially reduce the cyber risk by helping to prevent or deter the majority types of attacks". The corporate leadership will also be given an outline of how the threat has increased incrementally and examples of companies which have suffered.

According to The Cost of Cyber Crime report, published last year, the country's business sector is the worst affected, losing £21bn a year in revenue.

The cost to consumers was £3.1bn a year (£1.7bn in identity theft and £1.4bn due to online scams), while the Government lost £2.2bn a year through fraud. The opportunities for criminals have expanded, with the growth of new technology and the internet accounting for 21 per cent of GDP growth in the past five years in mature economies, and the web providing 2.6 jobs for every one lost. In the UK, 6 per cent of GDP is generated by the internet.

The director of GCHQ, Iain Lobban, said: "Using the practical approach in the Cyber Security Guidance will make the bad guys' job harder and won't cost a fortune.

"The impact of cyber threats is severe, both to specific companies affected and to the long term security and prosperity of the UK. The barriers to the participation in cybercrime are being lowered and that trend is almost certain to continue with potentially major implications for the economy.

"A survey conducted by one cyber security company earlier this year suggested that nearly nine in 10 UK businesses are confident in their defences. If that's true, my experience suggests that such confidence is misplaced."

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, added: "A networked world brings many advantages. But cyberspace – and cybercrime – knows no borders. Businesses must be alert to the dangers."