London, Feb 5 (IANS) A Chinese internet spy ring has penetrated Britain’s government computer networks with malicious software, the Guardian reported.
British foreign secretary William Hague told a security conference in Munich that his office repelled an attack last month by “a hostile state intelligence agency”.
Although Hague did not name the country behind the attacks, intelligence sources familiar with the incidents made it clear he was referring to China, the daily said.
In his speech Hague talked about concern within the government about increasing threat posed by cyber espionage to steal the country’s defence, diplomatic and commercial secrets.
“It is a new development. The UK is prepared to admit the attacks were state-backed,” said Alexander Neill, head of the Asia programme at the Royal United Services Institute thinktank.
The foreign secretary said the attack came in the form of an email sent to three of his staff “which claimed to be about a forthcoming visit to the region and looked quite innocent”.
“In fact it was from a hostile state intelligence agency and contained computer code embedded in the attached document that would have attacked their machine. Luckily, our systems identified it and stopped it from ever reaching my staff,” Hague said.
In another attack last year, the foreign secretary said Britain’s defence industry was “deliberately” targeted.
“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,” Hague was quoted as saying.
“Security meant that the email was detected and blocked, but its purpose was undoubtedly to steal information relating to our most sensitive defence projects.”
Hague said that a third attack had succeeded in evading Britain’s defences with a version of the Zeus malware widely used to extract banking information and other personal details from targeted computers.
“In late December a spoof 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,” he said.
The foreign secretary said that experts were able to clear up the infection, “but more sophisticated attacks such as these are becoming more common”.