GCHQ director Iain Lobban has once again warned of the growing threat to private business and government from cyber space, branding it "one of the greatest challenges of our day".
Lobban made his last major public pronouncement on the cyber threat facing UK organisations just over a year ago, telling the International Institute for Strategic Studies that over 20,000 malicious emails hit government networks every month.
Today he wrote in The Times that the attacks on businesses and government "continue to be disturbing".
"I can attest to attempts to steal British ideas and designs - in the IT, technology, defence, engineering and energy sectors as well as other industries - to gain commercial advantage or to profit from secret knowledge of contractual arrangements," he said.
"We are also aware of similar techniques being employed to try to acquire sensitive information from government computer systems, including one significant (but unsuccessful) attempt on the Foreign Office and other departments this summer."
GCHQ is in a perfect position to appraise the exact nature and volume of cyber threats facing the UK given its unique and critical role in monitoring and securing information systems for the government and parts of the critical infrastructure.
The past year has seen the discovery of a number of global, sophisticated and targeted attacks designed to covertly lift sensitive information from a range of organisations.
In February, McAfee uncovered the Night Dragon attacks originating in China and targeting global oil, energy and petrochemical companies, while in August the same vendor revealed Shady RAT, an even larger attack compromising 72 organisations.
Most recently, Trend Micro discovered Lurid, an ongoing series of targeted attacks that have compromised nearly 1,500 computers in 61 countries, although most were located in Russia and former USSR states.
Foreign secretary William Hague admitted this year that the UK government fell victim to a cyber attack using the notorious information-stealing Zeus malware in late December 2010, while chancellor George Osborne revealed that "hostile intelligence agencies" made hundreds of attempts to break into the Treasury's systems last year.
In response to the threats and opportunities presented by cyber space, Hague has arranged the London Conference on Cyberspace, which will run on 1 and 2 November and feature speakers such as US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes and Icann chief executive Rod Beckstrom.
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