The government is seeking to quell what it claims are reactionary press reports branding network intrusions by hackers as "cyber attacks".
Government officials say they are concerned that the use of the word 'attack' for any sort of hack has led the media to conflate network intrusion attempts with acts of cyber war.
Air commodore Graham Wright, deputy director of the Office of Cyber Security (OCS), said his Cabinet Office department is developing a "national lexicon" of cyber English.
"We talk about the numbers of attacks we suffer," said Wright in an interview with Computer Weekly. "Attack is where you degrade, deny, disrupt or destroy something. But there are times when we need to be very explicit. Was this really an attack or was it theft?
"Most of what people refer to as 'attacks' are the exfiltration of data, which is theft or espionage," he said. "I haven't seen any reports of attack. Everyone always reports an attack. In most cases it is not an attack, its theft and crime, its stealing data."
The OCS hopes a national cyber lexicon would end inexact reports of cyber attacks while clarifying language the UK could use when talking to Nato partners about the actual but as yet unrealised possibility of cyber attacks by foreign powers.
Verizon said in its 2009 Data Breach Investigations report that 91% of known cyber breaches were linked to organised crime. What of the remaining 9% was espionage and what could classified by the military as an attack was not stated.
Cyber military commanders on both sides of the Atlantic told Computer Weekly they were unable to quantify the cyber threat or cite any examples of known state-led cyber attacks on their countries, though they admitted that unknown intruders were regularly breaking into their networks.