Hague details cyber attacks on Whitehall

Foreign Office and Trident contractor targeted online...
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

Foreign Office and Trident contractor targeted online...

The government has revealed details of a series of cyber attacks that were launched on Whitehall and the defence industry over the past year.

Foreign secretary William Hague outlined the attacks in a speech to world leaders at an international security summit in Munich today.

The attacks ranged from an infection of the Zeus Trojan inside the Foreign Office to a piece of malware disguised as a report on the Trident missile that was sent to a defence contractor.

"In late December a spoofed email purporting to be from the White House was sent to a large number of international recipients who were directed to click on a link that then downloaded a variant of Zeus," Hague said.

"The UK Government was targeted in this attack and a large number of emails bypassed some of our filters.

"Our experts were able to clear up the infection, but more sophisticated attacks such as these are becoming more common."

Cyber security

The government has outlined details of a number of cyber attacks on Whitehall over the past 12 months
Photo: Shutterstock

Detailing the second attack, Hague said: "Last year the national security interests of the UK were targeted in a deliberate attack on our defence industry.

"A malicious file posing as a report on a nuclear Trident missile was sent to a defence contractor by someone masquerading as an employee of another defence contractor.

"Good, protective security meant the email was detected and blocked, but its purpose was undoubtedly to steal information relating to sensitive defence projects."

Hague also revealed that three of his staff had been emailed a document from a colleague outside the Foreign Office that contained a computer code that "would have attacked their machine", but it had been blocked.

Cyber attacks and cybercrime were ranked as one of the top five highest priority risks in the government's recent National Security Strategy.

Outlining the measures that government has taken to boost cyber security, Hague mentioned the £650m funding for a national cyber security programme, the establishment of a new ministerial group on cyber security and the creation of a Defence Cyber Operations Group - which incorporates cyber security into the mainstream of defence planning and operation.

He also called for a collective response to cyber attacks and cybercrime, and said the UK will host an international conference later this year to discuss how to set global norms of acceptable behaviour in cyberspace.

"Cyber security is on the agendas of some 30 multilateral organisations, from the UN to the OSCE and the G8. Nato's Lisbon Summit in November launched a new programme to defend Nato's communication systems from cyber attack. But much of this debate is fragmented and lacks focus," Hague said.

"We believe there is a need for a more comprehensive, structured dialogue to begin to build consensus among like-minded countries and to lay the basis for agreement on a set of standards on how countries should act in cyberspace."

Minister for Crime Prevention James Brokenshire announced on Thursday that Britain is to opt into new EU rules designed to target cyber criminals.

The Directive on Attacks Against Information Systems requires police across Europe to work more closely together to identify cyber crime suspects and gather evidence.

It contains a set of agreed minimum rules on online crimes and penalties that EU states must build into domestic law, requiring them to respond quickly to overseas requests for help in cybercrime cases.

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