Osborne: Treasury hit by hundreds of hacking attacks

Hostile foreign intelligence agencies launch frequent attacks on the Treasury's systems, averaging out at one attempt per day, according to chancellor George Osborne

The UK Treasury is a prime target for cyberattack by foreign intelligence agencies, which have tried to break into its systems hundreds of times over the last year, according to chancellor George Osborne.

George Osborne Chancellor

George Osborne has said the Treasury's computer systems have been targeted by foreign intelligence agencies. Photo credit: Conservative Party

The department's computers are one of the biggest targets in Whitehall for determined aggressors, who used techniques such as targeted malicious emails, Osborne told the Google Zeitgeist conference on Monday.

"During 2010, hostile intelligence agencies made hundreds of serious and pre-planned attempts to break into the Treasury's computer system," Osborne told the audience at the London event. "In fact, it averaged out as more than one attempt per day."

Osborne gave an example of an attack linked to the G20 summit in November. A legitimate email was sent to the Treasury and international partners with an attachment. Minutes later, the email appeared to have been re-sent to the same recipients on the mailing list, but the second message had a malicious attachment.

"To the recipient it would have simply looked like the attachment had been sent twice," said Osborne. "Fortunately, our systems identified this attack and stopped it."

Malicious emails

Over 20,000 malicious emails are sent to government networks per month, he said, adding that the government has responded to such threats by putting £650m into the National Cybersecurity Programme.

The G20-related malicious email was sent in the lead-up to the summit in November, a Treasury spokesman told ZDNet UK, but declined to give more details.

In March, the French government said it had been hacked by people looking for G20 documents, and later in the same month the European Commission said it had suffered a "serious" cyberattack.

MessageLabs Symantec Hosted Services, which provides email security for the UK government, declined to comment on the G20 email attack.

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