London, August 23 : The Government of Britain has said that thousands of cyber attacks are being carried each day on key utilities in the country by criminals and terrorists, some of them backed by foreign states.
According to a report in The Times, computer networks controlling electricity supplies, telecommunications and banking are being attacked thousands of times a day in a new cyber war in Britain.
Lord West of Spithead, the Security Minister, told The Times that a mixture of state-sponsored individuals "and those operating at a terrorist level" frequently tried to break into the key networks.
Though intelligence organisations such as MI5 have given warning of the threat of state-sponsored "cyber-espionage" from countries such as Russia and China, this is thought to be the first time that the Government has quantified the extent of the threat to the nation's networks, furthering the prospect of more widespread computer-based "warfare".
"If you take the whole gamut of threats, from state-sponsored organisations to industrial espionage, private individuals and malcontents, you're talking about a remarkable number of attempted attacks on our system - I'd say in the thousands," Lord West said.
Security experts in the US said that they had uncovered evidence of Russia having carried out state-sponsored cyber warfare against Georgia by attacking government computer networks during the recent conflict.
According to Lord West, the most serious threat was from terrorist-backed hackers trying to break into and manipulate networks such as National Grids, which were heavily reliant on computer systems.
Other corporate networks, such as those of defence companies, were also at risk.
Security experts said that any successful attack would be likely to result from a hacker exploiting the part of a computer system that was connected to the internet - known as a port - and raised concerns that British companies were not doing enough to protect their networks.
"We're building this house of cards at the moment - connecting elements of our financial systems, as well as the systems which control nuclear power or water distribution, to the internet, and it's a very open environment," said Earl Zmijewski, an analyst with Renesys, a company that monitors internet traffic.
"Most companies are not aware of the threat, and have an unreasonable faith in their own security systems," said Paul Vlissidis, an analyst with the Manchester-based security company NCC Group.