The threat of electronic espionage from agents acting for foreign governments, in particular those of Russia and China, is growing, the head of MI5 warned in a speech on Monday.
Mr Jonathan Evans said that a “number of countries continue to devote significant time and energy” to stealing sensitive government information using increasingly sophisticated technical methods. Most notably Russia and China increasingly use Internet-enabled intrusion techniques “to penetrate computer networks”, he said.
MI5 has had to divert “significant amounts of equipment, money and staff” from major counter-terrorism operations in order to defend against these Internet-based attacks, a predicament Evans described as disappointing.
“They are resources which I would far rather devote to countering the threat from international terrorism — a threat to the whole international community, not just the UK,” he added.
The startling scale and ambition of the Chinese military’s cyber strategy was unveiled in September, when the Times newspaper obtained a Pentagon report outlining China’s alleged ‘blueprint’ for cyberwar.
The revelation followed a series of recent incidents in which the Chinese government has been accused of sponsoring military-led cyber assaults against Western government networks, including computer systems belonging to Chancellor Merkel in Germany and Whitehall in Britain.
In late August it also emerged that the Chinese military successfully penetrated Pentagon networks in June 2007, prompting President Bush to admit that “a lot” of US systems are “vulnerable” to attack.