GCHQ boss warns of 'disturbing' rise in cyber-attacks

The head of GCHQ, the UK government's intelligence gathering agency, has warned of a "disturbing" increase in cyber-attacks against UK targets.

Writing in the Times newspaper, Iain Lobban highlighted a "significant" attack carried out on the Foreign Office over the summer.

Private firms were also being targeted by hackers, he said, highlighting attempts to steal intellectual property from engineering, energy and defence contractors that he said could damage the country's "economic well-being".

Lobban's comments were echoed by Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said that there had been an "exponential rise" in the number of attack, noting that the HMRC's tax database was especially liable to attack.

On Tuesday, the government hosts the two-day London Conference on Cyberspace, convened by Hague, to focus on the problem. A number of big names are due to speak, including European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes; US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton; Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and Cisco vice president Brad Boston, according to a report by the BBC.

The escalating issue of cyber-security was highlighted recently in an exclusive interview with thinq_ by Greg Hoglund, CEO of US security contractor HBGary, who accused China of waging a "new Cold War" online, with state-sponsored attacks against private companies and foreign governments.