The head of British intelligence agency GCHQ warned Monday of a "disturbing" rise in cyber attacks on the country's government andindustry systems which he said risked damaging the economy.
Iain Lobban, director of the Government Communications Headquarters, said the attacks included a "significant" but unsuccessful attempt to acquire sensitive information from the Foreign Office, in an article ahead of a global conference oncyberspace in London on Tuesday.
"The volume of e-crime and attacks on government and industry systems continue to be disturbing," he wrote in The Times newspaper.
This included attempts to steal British ideas and designs, he said, adding: "Such intellectual property theft doesn?t just cost the companies concerned: it represents an attack on the UK's continued economic wellbeing.
"We are also aware of similar techniques being employed to try to acquire sensitive information from British government computer systems, including one significant (but unsuccessful) attempt on the Foreign Office and other government departments this summer."
Criminals were also using cyberspace to extort money and steal identities, Lobban said, warning: "We are witnessing the development of a global criminal market place -- a parallel black economy where cyber dollars are traded in exchange for UK citizens? credit card details."
In an interview with the same newspaper, Foreign Secretary William Hague revealed that the details of credit card users were being traded on illegal websites for as little as 70 pence (80 euro cents, $1.10).
Hague said a dividing line was opening up between countries who could defend themselves and their citizens against cyber crime, and those that could not.
"Countries that cannot maintain cyber security of their banking system, of the intellectual property of their companies, will be at a serious disadvantage in the world," he said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales are among up to 900 delegates attending a two-day conference on cyberspace starting in London on Tuesday, which will address security risks.