British foreign secretary William Hague has issued statements confirming that government systems have been targeted by state-sponsored cyber espionage operations, according to reports.
Hague addressed concerns the British have regarding several instances of cyber attacks designed to access secured systems and steal sensitive information.
The latest attack came in the form of a seemingly innocuous email communication.
"In fact it was from a hostile state intelligence agency and contained computer code embedded in the attached document that would have attacked their machine. Luckily, our systems identified it and stopped it from ever reaching my staff," Hague said.
Hague pointed out another incident in 2010 was aimed at penetrating systems at a British defense contractor.
"A malicious file posing as a report on a nuclear Trident missile was sent to a defence contractor by someone masquerading as an employee of another defence contractor. Security meant that the email was detected and blocked, but its purpose was undoubtedly to steal information relating to our most sensitive defence projects," Hague is quoted as saying.
Although Hague did not publicly single out any one nation as the aggressor, intelligence sources familiar with the incidents made it clear that the secretary was referring to China.
"The UK is prepared to admit the attacks were state-backed," said the head of the Asia program at the Royal United Services Institute, Alexander Neill.
Similar attempts to infiltrate government systems have come to light in the United States. A series of emails were sent in 2009 to five State Department officials requesting comment on climate change issues.
The emails were spoofed to appear to have originated from the National Journal’s editor and columnist Bruce Stokes, and were titled "China and Climate Change”.
At the time, the State Department officials contacted were engaged in sensitive negotiations with the Chinese government on greenhouse-gas emissions.
The emails contained attachments infested with malware that would have allowed the attackers access to the recipient's computers by way of a backdoor.