British spy chief warns of China web threat

Fri Nov 30, 7:29 PM ET

LONDON (AFP) - The head of Britain's domestic security service has warned business leaders that China has been carrying out state-sponsored espionage against vital parts of the economy.

The director-general of MI5, Jonathan Evans, wrote to 300 chief executives and security heads at banks, accountancy and legal firms, warning them they were under attack from "Chinese state organisations" via the Internet, The Times said Saturday.

It is thought to be the first time London has directly accused Beijing of involvement in web-based espionage, the daily said.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown said last weekend he is due to visit China in January next year. The Times said Evans's warning, which it had seen, threatened to cast a diplomatic shadow over the trip.

In particular, Evans warns companies doing business in China to be on their guard against the Chinese Army, because they were using the Internet to steal sensitive commercial data.

The newspaper quoted a security expert as saying that among the techniques used by Chinese groups were "custom trojans" -- software that hacks into a firm's network and feeds back confidential information.

The MI5 letter, on which the Home Office (interior ministry) refused to comment, includes a list of so-called "signatures" that can be used to identify such trojans, plus Internet addresses used to launch them, it added.