Britain is being hit by dozens of cyber-attacks a month, including attempts by Russian state-sponsored hackers to steal defence and foreign policy secrets, GCHQ’s new cybersecurity chief has said.
Ciaran Martin, head of the new National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), told the Sunday Times there had been a “step change” in Russia’s online aggression against the west.
His comments came as the chancellor, Philip Hammond, told the Sunday Telegraph the centre had blocked 34,550 “potential attacks” on government departments and members of the public in the past six months – about 200 cases a day.
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Allegations of Russia-sponsored cyber-attacks became a focal point during the US election, raising fears that the tactic was on the rise.
Martin said Britain had been hit by 188 high-level attacks, “many of which threatened national security”, in the last three months.
He told the Sunday Times: “In the case of government departments, [it is] getting into the system to extract information on UK government policy on anything from energy to diplomacy to information on a particular sector.”
Attacks by Russian and Chinese state-sponsored hackers on defence and foreign policy servers are among those being investigated by the NCSC, the newspaper said.
Martin added: “Over the last two years there has been a step change in Russian aggression in cyberspace. Part of that step change has been a series of attacks on political institutions, political parties, parliamentary organisations and that’s all very well evidenced by our international partners and widely accepted.”
Hammond, a former defence and foreign secretary, warned that hacks could bring down national infrastructure and that even kettles, fridges and driverless cars were at risk.
Writing in the Telegraph, he warned that the “internet revolution” brought the threat of being held to ransom by hackers, the theft of intellectual property and the “shutting down of critical national infrastructure”.
“Beyond hacked kettles and fridges, ‘internet of things’ devices, such as driverless cars, can present alarmingly real security threats that could be incredibly dangerous if the right security isn’t in place,” Hammond added.
Their comments come before the NCSC is officially opened in London by the Queen on Tuesday.