Intelligence agency GCHQ is to begin regular bulk-sharing of classified intelligence information with the UK's biggest companies. The scheme was announced at a private conference on Tuesday [17 June] by GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban.

The aim is to combat the increasing threat of online espionage, which the National Security Council has categorised on a par with terrorism as a major risk to the country. It also coincides with a drive by government to push British businesses into ensure that their computer security can withstand sustained cyber attack by determined individuals, groups and foreign powers. The intention is that the extra intelligence information that GCHQ may be able to provide will help organisations to target their defences.

GCHQ's plan to share classified intelligence with the private sector  will begin with companies who have already been vetted as suppliers to government networks, according to the Financial Times.

At the conference, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude underlined the threat of cyber espionage by revealing that a "state-sponsored hostile group" successfully penetrated the government's own intranet, gaining administrator rights, which enabled the group to access highly classified information. GCHQ claims that the attack was discovered at an early stage and the damage therefore limited.

Justin Tivey, senior manager comments: "Clearly this new world of intelligence sharing illustrates just how seriously the government is taking the risk of cyber-attacks. It is a welcome development for critical UK infrastructure and the national interest. Hopefully this is also a wake-up call for businesses and organisations outside of the government's inner circle. Their owners and employees would be seriously affected by business interruption and loss of customer trust following a cyber-attack. A blend of simple risk management steps as well as technical solutions and insurance cover should be high up on today's management agenda".