British government computer networks are targeted by some 1,000 attacks a month, one of the country's top spies said in comments published Wednesday, adding that officials may consider investing in using cyberwarfare techniques to deter their online enemies.
GCHQ Director Iain Lobban told an audience of officials and academics in London that malicious software aimed at the U.K. had already caused significant disruption to the government's systems and that security officials were tracking the theft of intellectual property "on a massive scale."
"Cyberspace is contested every day, every hour, every minute, every second," Lobban said. "I can vouch for that from the displays in our own operations center of minute-by-minute cyber attempts to penetrate systems around the world."
Lobban described cyber security as an issue that "goes to the heart of our economic well-being and national interest" and made a catalog of warnings:
_He said there were more than 20,000 malicious e-mails on government networks each month _ 1,000 of them deliberately targeted.
_He said that one country, which he did not identify, had used cyber attacks on another in an attempt to coerce it.
_Online tax systems across Europe had been targeted by cybercriminals.
_The threat to the country's critical infrastructure was "real and credible."
_E-crime was costing the British economy billions of pounds.
Lobban said that authorities were exploring a range of new options, including setting up a direct feed of information from infrastructure operators "so that we are aware of the attacks that they are seeing on their systems as they happen."
He also said government officials should also consider how to react to countries which deliberately attack Britain's electronic backbone _ and whether "it may be possible to use military cyber capabilities for deterrent effect."
Still, he cautioned that there was no parallel to the paradigm of "Mutually Assured Destruction," the notion that nuclear-armed nations would not dare launch atomic attacks against each other for fear of provoking a devastating reaction. Cyber attacks, he said, took place "every day."
Lobban was speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on Tuesday. The text of his speech has since been posted to the think tank's website.
Text of GCHQ director's speech: http://www.iiss.org/recent-key-addresses/iain-lobban-address/