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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hackers and spam

When I came off the Welsh Assembly's protected e-mail system during the recent elections I discovered just how much spam and malicious e-mail is out there. Suddenly, I was receiving attached files masquerading as perfectly innocent and helpful messages but were in fact internet worms or worse and that is not to mention the special offers.

Even so I was a bit taken aback by the revelation by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that more than 20,000 “malicious emails” are sent to Government networks each month. He said that last year saw “hostile intelligence agencies” make hundreds of “serious and pre-planned attempts to break into the Treasury’s computer system”, which he said averaged out at “more than one attempt per day”.

The Independent reports that Foreign Secretary William Hague told a conference in Munich that the Government’s computers were infected by a virus last year, which was transferred via email. He said the infection was cleared up but added that “more sophisticated attacks such as these are becoming more common”. The extent to which that is affecting government systems, which hold sensitive data, was revealed by Mr Osborne.

He added that the Treasury is “one of the most targeted departments across Whitehall”. Mr Osborne outlined one example last year when, he said, a “perfectly legitimate G20-related email” was sent to the Treasury.

“Within minutes it appeared that the email had been re-sent to the same distribution list. In fact, in the second email the legitimate attachment had been swapped for a file containing malicious code,” said Mr Osborne.

He added that the two looked almost identical to the untrained eye but that the Treasury’s security systems identified the attack and stopped it.

According to reports, a similar attack aimed at the French Finance Ministry and the European Council last year got past the security systems of 150 computers ahead of the G20 summit. An anonymous French government official was quoted as saying that it had been “noted that a certain amount of the information was redirected to Chinese sites”.

It makes my problems with cyber attacks seem insignificant in comparison.
I thought when I heard the number of 20k a month that it was rather on the low side by at least 2 orders of magnitude. Around 90% of all email is spam and a fair proportion of that malicious. 20k get through their spam filters sounds more realistic.

I used to work with the chap[late great Steve Cumming] who is credited by some with coming up with the term spam for email which you don't want and did not ask for.

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