In November 2007, Jonathan Evans, the head of Britain’s Security Service (MI5), warned 300 business firms of the increased online threat from Russian and Chinese state organizations. In an unprecedented alert, Evans sent a confidential letter to the CEOs and security chiefs of banks, accountants and legal firms, warning them that they were under attack from “Chinese state organizations”. The letter highlights the potential damage to UK businesses resulting from electronic attacks sponsored by Chinese state organizations, and the fact that the attacks are designed to defeat best practice IT security systems.
This marked the first time that the British government had directly accused China of involvement in web-based espionage. The warning from Evans could have serious diplomatic consequences and cast a shadow over Gordon Brown’s first official visit to China as Prime Minister early in the new year.
The MI5 warning came at a time when the British government was also planning to launch a national cyber security center to combat the growing threat of criminal gangs and foreign states hacking into Whitehall and big business. The center, which was announced by the Prime Minister, was similar to an agency being created by the US President, Barack Obama, who was appointing a cyber coordinator to fight what he referred to as “weapons of mass disruption”.
The British government was also in talks with the US and Canada to coordinate operations against cyber attacks by foreign powers and terrorists.
This incident highlights the importance of cyber security in protecting businesses and government agencies from state-sponsored cyber attacks. Organizations should implement security measures such as firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and encryption to protect against such attacks. It also highlights the need for international cooperation to combat cybercrime.