GCHQ has announced it will start to share classified cyber-threat information with private companies being targeted by increasingly sophisticated hackers.
Director Sir Iain Lobban announced the information-sharing deal – initially on a pilot basis – at a two-day conference on cyber security being hosted by the British intelligence agency in London.
He also told delegates that the agency is looking at whether limited amounts of intellectual property created through its cyber-security work can be declassified to support the development of new business ventures with high-tech small and medium sized enterprises.
"GCHQ will commit to sharing its classified cyber threat information at scale and pace to help communications service providers protect their customers; starting with suppliers to government networks and then moving on the other sectors of critical national infrastructure," GCHQ said in a statement.
The news comes a day after Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude told those at the event that the Government’s own internal network was recently hacked by a "state-sponsored" group.
"I can tell you of a recent case where a state-sponsored hostile group gained access to a system administrator account on the government secure intranet," Maude said. "This attack was discovered early and dealt with to mitigate any damage."
Britain has said it is recruiting hundreds of computer experts to defend its vital networks against cyber-attacks and launch high-tech assaults of its own.
It has said it blocked about 400,000 advanced malicious cyber threats against the government's secure internet alone in 2012, and government documents have spoken of foreign states seeking "to conduct espionage with the aim of spying on or compromising our government, military, industrial and economic assets as well as monitoring opponents of their regime".
Government sources have said a large number of such assaults have originated in China or Russia.
Earlier this month, the Bank of England announced a new framework designed to spot and test possible weak points at British lenders in an attempt to bolster the financial industry's defences against cyber-attacks.
Cyber-attacks on private companies in Europe and the USA have increased in regularity and severity as increasingly resourceful ‘hacktivists’, criminals and extortionists try to infiltrate systems or just disrupt operations.
Last month, Ebay revealed hackers had accessed its network, accessing some 145 million user records in what was one of the biggest data breaches in history.