Government hack attacks dropping

Many departments claim not to have been the victim of any cyberattacks for several years, and the MoD admits that most incidents are coming from within

The UK government's IT infrastructure continues to be targeted by hackers, new figures have revealed.

In response to a series of parliamentary questions by Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow, government departments have revealed the level of hacking attempts against them in recent years.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has provided the most detailed answer, revealing that there have been 30 "hacking incidents" this year, compared to 36 last year and 12 in 2003.

The majority of hacking attempts came from within, the MoD said, describing 15 attempts as "internal misuse of resources", compared to 10 attacks last year.

Two incidents were labelled as internal "privilege abuse", one as internal "unauthorised access" and one as internal "unauthorised modification".

Six were defined as external probes or scans, and one other as a "computer network exploitation".

But unlike 2003 and 2004, so far this year no cases of external unauthorised access have been recorded at the MoD, it said.

Don Touhig, undersecretary of state for defence, said in response to a parliamentary question: "Some of the hacking incidents... represent precursor activity (such as probes or scans) to a hacking attack."

"In many cases, the protective measures deployed to safeguard MoD information systems are likely to have dissuaded hackers from developing their reconnaissance into a proper hacking attack. None of the reported incidents of hacking had any operational impact."

The Department of Transport said it and its agencies recorded 30 cases of computer hacking in 2002-03, 71 cases in 2003-04, 31 cases in 2004-05 and one case to date in 2005-06.

The Department for International Development (DFID) admitted to being hacked twice in recent years.

Hilary Benn, International Development Secretary, said: "DFID computer systems were accessed illegally by computer hackers from outside the department on one occasion in each of the years 2003-04 and 2004-05."

The Department for Education and Skills said it had detected one case of computer hacking in 2004-05 "which was perpetrated by an outsider".

The Treasury said it had recorded one hack attack last year, and one in 2001-02 and 2002-03.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said its systems were accessed illegally from outside the department once in 2003.

But other departments insist they have managed to stop hackers getting in completely.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said it had recorded no cases of hacking since it was set up in May 2002, and the Department of Health said there has been no reported incidents of computer hacking or fraud on its IT systems "either within or outside the department since 2001-02 year".

The Department of Trade and Industry also said it had not found any evidence of attacks, as did the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.