Britain is seeing about 70 sophisticated cyber espionage operations a month against government or industry networks, British intelligence has told the BBC.
GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban said business secrets were being stolen on an “industrial scale”.
Foreign hackers have penetrated some firms for up to two years, he said.
Sir Iain told BBC Radio 4: “People are going after intellectual property and then seeking to translate it into national gain.
“We started a couple of years ago thinking this was going to be very much about the defence sector but really it’s any intellectual property that can be harvested.”
Foreign intelligence services are behind many of these attacks, according to Britain’s Security Service MI5.
British businesses are waking up the threat of cyber espionage. Sir Michael Rake, chairman of BT and president of business lobby group CBI, has been warning fellow businessmen about the dangers. “These threats are real, they’re sophisticated, they do financial and reputational damage,” he told the BBC.
“There’s been a lot of concern around espionage in gaining information of advanced planning and design and it is critical because one of our big strengths in the UK is our design capabilities,” he added.
The job of the Security Service MI5 involves dealing not just with terrorist threats but also cyber attacks.
“There are now three certainties in life – there’s death, there’s taxes and there’s a foreign intelligence service on your system,” explained MI5’s head of cyber (who asked not to be named), in his first public interview inside MI5’s Thames House headquarters.
…So who is behind these attacks? Both MI5 and GCHQ said they knew who was behind the attacks but neither was willing to say.
“We’re sure we know who it is,” argued Sir Iain, saying only that in many cases attacks are “state sponsored”.
Washington has taken a different approach. Both the administration and Congress are explicit about what they see happening to American companies.
“Blueprints for their products that make them successful are being stolen at a breath-taking pace, taken back to China, repurposed and then they re-engineer it and then compete against those companies with those products which they’ve stolen,” Congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee told the BBC.
“I stand back in awe as a professional at the breadth, depth, sophistication and persistence of the Chinese espionage effort against the United States of America,” Michael Hayden, former director of America’s spy agency the NSA said.
That is, of course, a slightly disingenuous answer since most experts believe that the NSA (along with GCHQ) is amongst the most adept and busy of all global spy agencies when it comes to stealing the secrets of other countries.
Hayden however draws a distinction. “We steal secrets too… but we steal only those things that keep British or American subjects safe and free. We don’t steal things to make Americans – or in GCHQ’s case British – subjects rich. The Chinese do.”
Full article: Britain ‘under attack’ in cyberspace (BBC)