An "astonishing" level of cyber attacks from enemy states and criminals is threatening British government secrets and businesses, it was claimed last night.
The director general of MI5, Jonathan Evans, warned that vulnerabilities in both state and commercial systems are being "exploited aggressively" by thousands of hackers.
He revealed that MI5 alone is investigating "cyber compromises" in more than a dozen companies and that one major London business suffered £800m (€1bn) in losses following an attack.
Mr Evans also warned of the growing threat of cyber warfare during a lecture in London last night.
He said the risk was all the greater because the internet was now the connection to most aspects of daily life, from offices to cars, traffic managements systems and cash machines.
"This increases the potential for mischief and leads to risks of real world damage as well as information loss," he said.
The UK's National Security Strategy ranks the threat of cyber attacks alongside that of terrorism and it poses a threat to infrastructure systems as well as state secrets and commercial gain.
And it is not just criminals behind the attacks. Although Mr Evans did not name countries, it has long been widely accepted that Russia and China sponsor many cyber incidents.
"Vulnerabilities in the internet are being exploited aggressively not just by criminals but also by states," Mr Evans said.
"And the extent of what is going on is astonishing -- with industrial-scale processes involving many thousands of people lying behind both state-sponsored cyber espionage and organised cyber crime.
"This is a threat to the integrity, confidentiality and availability of government information but also to business and to academic institutions.
"What is at stake is not just our government secrets but also the safety and security of our infrastructure and the commercially sensitive information that is the lifeblood of our companies and corporations." (© Daily Telegraph, London)