The energy sector continues to be a target for cyber criminals, the head of the Britain’s biggest intelligence agency has revealed.

Iain Lobban, director of the UK government’s ‘listening centre’ GCHQ, said the volume of e-crime attacks on industry “continues to be disturbing”.

Writing in The Times newspaper, he said: “I can attest to attempts to steal British ideas and designs – in the IT, technology, defence, engineering and energy sectors, as well as other industries – to gain commercial advantage or to profit from secret knowledge of contractual arrangements.”

He stated that the UK needed to “develop a collective approach to cyber security that makes UK networks intrinsically resilient in the face of cyber threats”.

His comments come a week before the inaugural Energy & Utility Cyber Security Summit will be held in Amsterdam, with representatives from more than 25 European utilities said to have signed up to attend.

One of the organisations holding workshops at the event is called Cyber Security in Real Time Systems (CSIRS). Its chairman David Spinks said: “The stress and pressure on the power and utilities industry both to implement Smart Grid technologies but to also respond to cyber security threats and to demands by the regulators have never been stronger.”

Earlier this month a report from US analysts Pike Research forecast that utility companies will spend $14bn on security upgrades to Smart Grids between this year and 2018 as they play “catch-up” on cyber crime.

Report author Bob Lockhart said “cyber security is still way behind the attackers” and predicted that e-crime was an issue “the utility industry will grapple with neutralising for years to come”.

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