Hacking by foreign governments and corporations is putting British companies out of business and has cost the economy £27 billion, the country’s head of cyber security has warned.‘The biggest threat to this country by cyber is not military, it is economic,’ said Major General Jonathan Shaw, a veteran of the Falklands War and Iraq.
Maj Gen Jonathan Shaw said that British firms are routinely having valuable commercial information stolen from them by overseas rivals.
In a recent instance, a firm in Warrington, Cheshire, that designed a revolutionary blade for wind turbines went bust after hackers stole the blueprint and produced a cheaper version.
Maj Gen Shaw, the head of the Ministry of Defence’s cyber security programme, said that Britain will lose its position as one of the world’s leading hi-tech manufacturers unless companies improve cyber security.
“The cyber threat could affect anyone, and we all need to take measures to protect ourselves against the threat it poses. If the moment you come up with a brilliant new idea, it gets nicked by the Chinese then you can end up with your company going bust.”
Earlier this week, it emerged that a new version of the Stuxnet virus that crippled Iran’s nuclear programme is being targeted at European firms that play a critical role in nuclear power and other critical industries.
The variant of the virus, Duqu, targets the software that controls power stations and other facilities.
The Chinese pose the biggest threat, Maj Gen Shaw said, and regularly target British companies and government institutions to acquire highly sensitive information.
To protect itself against future cyber attacks, Britain needed to have “an effective national response where everybody had to be involved”, he said.
Undertaking simple tasks, such as regularly changing passwords and making checks of computer software, could help to prevent attacks. “About 80 per cent of our cyber problems are caused by what I call poor cyber hygiene,” Maj Gen Shaw said. “Many of them would go away if our cyber hygiene was better. We have embraced the opportunities provided by new technology, such as computers and mobile phones, without giving proper consideration to the downsides.”
Maj Gen Shaw says that Britain needs to be more like China, where the government introduced a programme of training schools to educate businesses to protect themselves from cyber attacks.
“Anyone can take part in these courses and learn how to implement effective precautions against cyber attacks,” he said. “We should do the same here.”