G20 protesters hit gov't with email attacks

The government was subjected to targeted email attacks during the G20 protests in April, according to official email provider MessageLabs

The UK government was subjected to targeted email attacks by G20 protesters, according to the company responsible for government email security.

The April G20 protests, which focused on issues ranging from economic policy to climate change, included sending emails directly to government staff by name in an attempt to break into their computers, MessageLabs head Adrian Chamberlain revealed to ZDNet UK on Thursday.

"Protesters at G20 decided on targeted attacks as a form of protest," Chamberlain said. "We saw named users targeted in attacks."

In April, top politicians from around the world gathered in London for the G20 summit to discuss economic policy. Chamberlain declined to give details of who was targeted in the UK government at the time, or what the attack methods were. Normally, targeted email attacks either contain a malicious file that executes when opened or contain links to websites hosting malicious code.

MessageLabs declined to say how many malicious emails were sent to UK government staff during the G20 protests, but said that in the normal course of events, the company sees 350 targeted attacks per day on both public- and private-sector clients. The incidents are split approximately equally between the two sectors, it added.

Chamberlain, who became a Symantec senior vice president after the security firm bought MessageLabs in October last year, said that such attacks had bolstered government resolve to act on IT security. Last week, the government published its first Cyber Security Strategy, a component of the National Security Strategy.

"[These types of attack] underpin why the government is keen on upgrading security, including looking at techniques to stop attacks as far from government networks as possible," said Chamberlain.

The MessageLabs head added that the government's Cyber Security Strategy was necessary as attacks "are getting more organised and vicious".

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