Essential UK computer systems are under threat of attack from hostile governments and terrorists, senior government sources have warned.
The so-called Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) is thought to be at risk from hostile countries and anti-British terrorists exploiting less well protected systems to gain access to the CNI.
IT managers have a vital role to play in combating the growing threat of an electronic terrorist attack and have already provided key information.
The sources said that much of the current knowledge of the terrorist threat has been provided by vigilant systems administrators, who have spotted unauthorised access to their networks.
Mark O'Hara, managing director of financial services security firm Hydra, explained that transactional infrastructures, which enable disparate systems to share data, provide intruders with access opportunities.
"It's the old adage: you're only as strong as your weakest link," he said.
The number of businesses that may provide routes into the CNI is on the rise, following recent government initiatives such as electronic voting pilots.
These have increased the number of firms, such as city solicitors which oversee local elections, that have access to the government's IT infrastructure.
"Security will be essential," said e-Envoy Andrew Pinder (pictured). "But these are not technical people, and we need to get the message out to them."
Government officials are keen to stress the need for vigilance rather than alarm, but the prospect of war with Iraq is heightening concerns.
"We currently judge that the threat of a disruptive attack by terrorists is relatively low. But circumstances can change the threat level dramatically," one government official said.
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