Urgent warnings have been circulated throughout Nato and the European Union for secret intelligence material to be protected from a recent surge in cyberwar attacks originating in China.
The attacks have also hit government and military institutions in the United States, where analysts said that the West had no effective response and that EU systems were especially vulnerable because most cyber security efforts were left to member states.
Nato diplomatic sources told The Times: “Everyone has been made aware that the Chinese have become very active with cyber-attacks and we’re now getting regular warnings from the office for internal security.” The sources said that the number of attacks had increased significantly over the past 12 months, with China among the most active players.
In the US, an official report released on Friday said the number of attacks on Congress and other government agencies had risen exponentially in the past year to an estimated 1.6 billion every month.
The Chinese cyber-penetration of key offices in both Nato and the EU has led to restrictions in the normal flow of intelligence because there are concerns that secret intelligence reports might be vulnerable.
Sources at the Office for Cyber Security at the Cabinet Office in London, set up last year, said there were two forms of attack: those focusing on disrupting computer systems and others involving “fishing trips” for sensitive information. A special team has been set up at GCHQ, the government communications headquarters in Gloucestershire, to counter the growing cyber-threat affecting intelligence material. The team becomes operational this month.