Osborne: Treasury hammered by hackers


The UK Government's Treasury is a cyber criminal favourite when it comes to targeting Whitehall departments, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has revealed.

In 2010, there were hundreds of serious and pre-planned attempts to break into the Treasury's computer system by "hostile intelligence agencies," George Osborne told delegates at the Google Zeitgeist meeting today.

This meant the department was being targeted by such attacks on average more than once a day.

There are over 20,000 malicious emails sent to Government networks in "any given month," Osborne said.

"We are not taking this challenge lying down," he added.

"We are determined to get the security question right, so that we can maximise the opportunities that the internet age presents."

One specific attempt on the Treasury saw a G20-related, legitimate email cloned just minutes after it had been sent out. The second email, which was sent to the same address list as the first, contained a malicious attachment.

"To the recipient it would have simply looked like the attachment had been sent twice," Osborne said. "Fortunately, our systems identified this attack and stopped it."

In the Spending Review last year, Osborne announced the Government would invest 650 million in a new National Cyber Security Programme.

The Government should arguably be investing more in tackling cyber crime as this will pose serious threats for the future.

Osborne was at the Google Zeitgeist meeting to talk about plans for greater use of open data, so businesses could take advantage of the huge amount available to them.

With the increase in data, the Government needs to take security seriously, Osborne noted, citing the recent attacks on Sony's Playstation Network.

Earlier this year Foreign Secretary William Hague admitted the Government was sent a series of malicious emails in late 2010, claiming to be from the White House. The emails - a large number of which bypassed some of the Government's filters - contained a link which downloaded a variant of Zeus Trojan.

Again, the administration was successful in clearing up the infection without harm.

Rob Cotton, chief executive of NCC Group, said the Government may want to look at investing in cyber crime more though.

"Appointing an expert to focus on open data is all well and good. However, the Government should arguably be investing more in tackling cyber crime as this will pose serious threats for the future," Cotton said.

"Baroness Neville-Jones' appointment as Special Representative to Business on Cyber Security last week was one step forward on this matter but the Government must ensure that her role is not merely lip-service and that it makes a tangible difference to a very real problem."

The UK should look to the US, which recently outlined proposals for improved cyber security, for guidance on introducing such initiatives, Cotton said.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.