The Communications Electronics Security Group (CESG) -- a group within GCHQ responsible for safeguarding official IT and communications -- conducted tests on the utilities' networks and warned that the risks from hackers can only get worse.
Said a senior official: "We didn't set out to disrupt networks but we did point out what could happen if we took the next step."
Although CESG officials denied that systems are lying open to attack they admitted there have yet to be any serious attempts to infiltrate critical systems in the UK. Identified risks range from "the nuisance level of a 16-year-old hacker putting mickey mouse ears on your Web site to organisations that wish the UK harm," said an official.
Representatives from the Cabinet Office, Ministry of Defence, DTI and the Security Service gathered at the conference to discuss the threat hackers pose. Launching the conference, Margaret Beckett, Leader of the House of Commons warned that the smooth running of the country depended on the safe operation of the power, telecoms and water industries. "The invisible information networks which control these enterprises are as vital or more vital a part of our critical infrastructure as the visible hardware of power stations and water treatment plants. And being just as vital, it too needs protecting," she said.
According to officials, the government is hoping the utilities will agree to secure standards without having to "drag out the regulators".