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Government vigilance steps up after George Osborne reveals extent of cyber attacks

Warwick Ashford

Security experts have called for UK government departments to be vigilant after chancellor George Osborne revealed that 20,000 e-mails are sent by hostile intelligence agencies to the UK government each month.

The Treasury alone faces at least one cyber attack a day, George Osborne told a Google "Zeitgeist" seminar in Hertfordshire.

Mark Darvill, director at security firm AEP Networks, says with government networks coming under daily attacks from internet-based security threats, it is absolutely critical government networks deploy the highest levels of security to protect themselves and confidential data from compromise.

"Attacks on this frequency show that internet security is moving up the agenda for a very good reason," Darvill said.

Orla Cox, senior security operations manager at Symantec, says targeted attacks are increasingly common.

"Typically, these attacks originate through e-mail and are sent from spoofed e-mail accounts," said Cox.

The message body typically uses social engineering to trick the user into clicking on a malicious attachment or link. The subject matter of the e-mail may be loosely related to the target's profession.

The attachment or remote site attached to the link usually includes an exploit which is used to drop further malware, typically a backdoor program, which allows the attacker access to the compromised machine.

"Government departments and any other organisation should be wary of any unsolicited e-mail that contains an attachment," said Cox.

Mark Darvill says the chancellor's comments are interesting in the light of the government's launch of the prototype Alphagov website, which is the government's first attempt to consolidate the public sector services and online resources under one roof.

"Cyber-attacks and the threats the government will face will evolve in line with the online services that the government offers," he says.

According to Darvill, with the government wanting to make it easier for customers and businesses to engage with public services online, it is even more important robust security measures are used to ensure the watertight security of users' personal data.

"The £650m investment in a new National Cyber Security programme that the government made last year, confirms the coalition's commitment to cyber security. What we now need to see is each and every government department ramp up its security measures to ensure they are fully robust in the face of attack," he said.


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