The UK will be hit be a major cyber attack some time in the next two years, according to Ciaran Martin, the head of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). He described it as "inevitable".
Martin was speaking to The Guardian. He claimed that that as the US, France, Ukraine and other parts of Europe had been targeted in "category one" (C1) cyber attacks on their national infrastructure that it was a question of "when, not if" Britain will be hit.
"Most comparable western countries have experienced what we would consider a category one attack so we have been fortunate in avoiding that to date," he said. "I think it is a matter of when, not if and we will be fortunate to come to the end of the decade without having a category one attack.
"Some attacks will get through. What you need to do [at that point] is cauterise the damage," he added.
Martin noted that the country's worst attack so far has been the WannaCry ransomware attack that struck in May last year, which forced NHS hospitals across the UK to shut down IT systems and telephones lines, and in some cases cancel operations and send patients home.
However, this attack - which also infected traffic lights in Australia and forced Honda to shut down a production plant in Japan - was only categorised as a "category two" attack, of which there have been 34 since the NCSC was set up in October 2016, Martin said. There have been 762 category three incidents, he added.
Martin warned that while no successful attempts have yet been made to interfere with the UK's democratic process, there may have been intelligence-gathering taking place for possible future attacks.
"What we have seen from Russia thus far against the UK is a series of intrusions for espionage and possible pre-positioning into key sectors but in a more controlled form of attack from others," he said.
Martin's claims come just weeks after a report from think-tank Chatham House warned that nuclear weapons systems are becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks, which could lead to the 'inadvertent' nuclear launches.
His comments come after the head of the British Army, General Sir Nick Carter, called for more defence spending to tackle the threat of cyberattacks, saying that the UK needed to protect itself from "cyber-warfare" from Russia.
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