The Home Office stressed on Thursday that effective measures are in place to protect the UK from electronic attack, which it believes is a growing threat, following claims that tough new powers are needed.
A Home Office spokesperson insisted that this threat is under "constant review" already, with the National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre (NISCC) working "around the clock" to assess the threat of attack against the UK's critical national infrastructure (CNI).
The CNI includes Britain's telecoms, water and power networks, as well as the emergency and health services.
"The threat of the sort of attack that could disable a critical service is low," said the spokeswoman. "Less serious, but damaging attacks that might deface a Web site or deny service from a Web site are more likely," she added, insisting that "well-established defences" are in place in the event of a serious incident.
Lord Harris of Haringey claimed on Tuesday that Britain stood at risk of an "electronic 9/11" because the companies who run parts of the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) are not compelled to maintain the highest levels of security against electronic attacks.
Lord Harris wants NISCC to be given the power to enforce security standards, rather than just issuing warnings that he says can be ignored.
"The message to operators of the CNI should be if you want the privilege, business and profits for operating parts of our critical national infrastructure, you will be expected to accept the cost of doing it in a secure manner. Citizens must also accept that it will cost us more," said Harris.
The Home Office's official position is that the threat from electronic attack is increasing. Sources close to the issue within the department argue that NISCC's voluntary nature has helped to raise security standards — a position that appears to be supported by BT, whose telecommunications network is a key part of the CNI.
"As you'd expect, BT's takes its work supporting the CNI authorities extremely seriously and fulfils every obligation," said Mike Galvin, BT's director of Internet operations.
Some security experts dislike the term 'cyberterrorism', which they say overhypes the issue. But anti-spam organisation Spamhaus has endorsed Lord Harris's speech. "Spamhaus believes that unless the industry becomes willing to develop a more positive response strategy, the incoming UK government should develop legislation to address the cybercrime threat and to protect Britain's critical national infrastructure from cyberattack," said Spamhaus in a statement on its Web site.