Russian and Chinese hackers are targeting us ‘daily’, warns expert

Cybercriminals from Russia and China are actively targeting Oxfordshire councils, warns a leading cybersecurity expert.

Stuart Benger, who runs the Oxford Cyber Security Cluster, said local councilors often go on to become national politicians, making them an attractive target for state-sponsored and other cyber criminals who look ‘for anything’ and play ‘the long game’. He said: “Local councils, such as those in Oxfordshire, hold a lot of information about the local population, so I am sure they must be getting attacks on a daily basis.”

Mr Benger added: “Hackers are always trying to build up a picture of individuals and collect background on these people and see how they can use it.”

His comments came following the launch of the National Cyber Security Centre on Tuesday.

The new London-based facility, under the wing of GCHQ, is part of a five-year £1.9bn strategy to deal with cyber threats. Hackers cover their tracks, so it’s often impossible to tell if they have been inside an organisation.

And local authorities and other public bodies are vulnerable, thanks to pressure to save money, according to Mr Benger.

In many cases, they switch off parts of IT systems to save disc space and money. The Oxford Cyber Security Cluster, one of 18 government-backed not-for-profit organisations which are part of the UK Cyber Security Forum, says it’s not just our local councils which are under threat.

Oxford University is also a key prize for hackers of all types – from state-sponsored to those in commercial espionage. Innovation often originates as university research and can be worth millions once commercialised, so what is known as intellectual property is a major draw for cybercriminals.

Dr Malcolm Newdick
Managing Director

Abingdon-based Riverbank IT Management director, Dr. Malcolm Newdick says Oxfordshire firms are a target because of the high number of science-based businesses and university spin-outs based locally, which are at the forefront of technology other countries would like to possess.

He said: “We know attacks are coming from China and Russia who would like to get into businesses in Oxfordshire.”

Dr Newdick said the biggest targets are firms developing technology for bioscience and drug development.

Those in the motor industry, for example developing electric vehicle batteries and other high-tech devices, are also under threat.

He added: “If we wound the clock back to the 1960s or 70s, we would have spies stealing things with secret cameras.

“Now, that stuff isn’t on paper, it’s all digital so you don’t have to leave Russia to go spying, you just get your hackers to break in through a digital back door.”

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