UK Govt To Monitor Privately Owned Networks

GCHQ, the UK intelligence agency, aims to expand its remit to defend privately owned networks from hackers, by preparing to continually monitor Britain's most vital computer networks.

The plan will majorly expand what the Cheltenham-based spy agency's responsibilities currently are.

Security chiefs have recruited the assitance of David Cameron to press the companies responsible for critical national infrastructure to allow the government to keep watch for hackers on their systems. Experts at GCHQ would analyse unusual network traffic and take defensive action if necessary.

The Prime Minister last month summoned major firms including British Airways, BT and National Grid to Downing Street to discuss the plans, a report in The Telegraph said.

It is thought that the plan has been at least partly prompted by Government fears that a hostile state or terrorist group could strike Britain via the internet, with a large-scale Stuxnet-style attack on the UK's infrastructure. This would leave UK communication and financial services crippled, shut down the electricity grid, or sabotage air traffic control systems.

Such an attack would be relatively cheap to mount compared to a bombing, for example, and be more difficult to trace. The Stuxnet worm was used to attack Iran's nuclear programme last year.

The security minister, Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, said that a significantly expanded national cyber security hub at GCHQ will analyse streams of data from major communications, power and transport providers for evidence of hacking.

Currently, a small group, known as the Cyber Security Operations Centre, provides more limited intelligence on online threats to national security.

On top of having a huge increase in intelligence on the most potentially dangerous cyber attacks, the proposed partnership with private critical infrastructure firms would come alongside a major funding boost.

The government has vowed to inject £650m over the next four years to increase Britain's cyber security, and it is understood that the majority of the money will be allocated to GCHQ.

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