Government warned of hacking danger

Government is underestimating e-attack danger in its rush to get online, according to Commons leader

The Prime Minister has been warned that placing more of the government's infrastructure online will leave it vulnerable to computer hackers, in a leaked letter from the head of the House of Commons published in The Times Friday.

The letter, addressed to Cabinet Office Minister Ian McCartney, was copied to Tony Blair and Head of the Civil Service Richard Wilson.

Margaret Beckett, Leader of the Commons, warns the PM that moving services online outlined in the government's "e-Government" report will "render the UK infrastructure increasingly vulnerable to the threat of electronic attack".

She says the governments oft-talked-about plans to move all its services online by the year 2005 "does not contain adequate treatment of this risk".

Beckett, who was responsible for the governments preparation for the notorious Y2K bug, alludes to the lessons learnt from this experience in her letter. It is reported that the Head of the House of Commons believes the map showing the nations computer infrastructure, developed to guard against the millennium bug could be used to fend off hackers.

Colleagues of Mrs Beckett say they are surprised at the force of her language. A spokeswoman at the Cabinet Office, however, disputes the suggestion that the government is neglecting cyber-crime. She commented: "In preparing information age policy we have had representatives of the nation's critical infrastructure."

She adds that the e-Government report does contain a section dealing with electronic attack on the government. "The government takes security very, very seriously," she added.

A spokesman for Margaret Beckett's told The Times, "This was not intended for public consumption, but Margaret usually likes to get straight to the point."

A industry report found recently that a staggering 60 percent of British businesses report having experienced some sort of computer security breach in the past two years.

The Government's e-Minister will next week address members of Britain's Internet computer technology and Internet industry on the rising threat of computer crime, at a information security conference in London next week.

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