GCHQ Boss Warns Of ‘Disturbing’ Cyber Threat

The director of GCHQ warns cyber crime is growing, ahead of the London International Cyber Conference

The head of British intelligence agency GCHQ says that cyber attacks on the government and industry systems have reached “disturbing” levels, warning that intellectual property theft could damage the “UK’s continued economic wellbeing”.

In an article for The Times newspaper, Iain Lobban, director of GCHQ, spoke of attacks targeting the IT, technology, defence, engineering and energy sectors, referencing a “significant” but unsuccessful attempt on the The Foreign Office over the summer.

Criminals are also using the web to extort money and steal identities, Lobban said, warning: “We are witnessing the development of a global criminal market place – a parallel black economy where cyber dollars are traded in exchange for UK citizens’ credit card details.”

Economic cyber threat

The news follows a similar warning from Major General Jonathan Shaw, head of the Ministry of Defence’s cyber security programme, who said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, that Britain may lose its position as one of the world’s leading hi-tech manufacturers unless companies improve their cyber security.

“The biggest threat to this country by cyber is not military, it is economic,” said Shaw, a veteran of the Falklands War and Iraq. “The cyber threat could affect anyone, and we all need to take measures to protect ourselves against the threat it poses.”

These warnings come as the UK government prepares for a two-day conference on cyberspace starting in London on Tuesday. The event will bring together political leaders, such as US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and EU vice president for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, with leading cyber security experts and technology entrepreneurs such as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Foreign Secretary William Hague (pictured) said there are more than 600 malicious attacks on government systems every day, and criminals are now able to obtain stolen credit card details over the Internet for as little as 70 pence.

“Countries that cannot maintain cyber-security of their banking system, of the intellectual property of their companies, will be at a serious disadvantage in the world,” he told The Times.

International threat

Meanwhile, the US Department of Homeland Security Secretary said last week that cyber-attacks have already come close several times to shutting down parts of the country’s critical infrastructure.

In fiscal year 2011, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team responded to more than 100,000 incident reports and released more than 5,000 actionable cyber-security alerts and information products, according to Secretary Janet Napolitano.