Speaking at the Open Intelligence and Security Debate at the House of Commons in London, Robin Cook said that because technology had an increasingly important role in all aspects of life in the UK, vital services such as power and water supply were at risk of attack from hackers.
However, Cook claimed that the government was taking action to combat the threat. "Computers now manage most of our critical national infrastructure but with these new opportunities there also comes the risk of new threats. A computer-based attack could cripple the nation more quickly than a military strike," warned Cook.
The UK government got a taste of the dangers of hacking last week when its European single currency Web site -- www.euro.gov.uk -- was plastered with insulting messages about the Queen.
According to the foreign secretary, the government's "National Infrastructure Security Coordination Centre" is already improving its ability to react to electronic attack. Cook was keen to point out that a national alert was issued within one hour of the Anna Kournikova virus hitting the UK.
The purpose of the National Infrastructure Security Coordination Centre (NISCC) is to defend Critical National Infrastructure within government departments and the private sector from the threat posed by electronic attack -- including monitoring and increase awareness of the threat, defending against it and responding to incidents. It was criticised for its slow reaction to the Love Bug virus last summer.
The Open Intelligence and Security Debate has been called to examine the role of the UK's secret intelligence agencies now that the Cold War is over.
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