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Highly-organised and sophisticated hackers are being blamed for “industrial-strength” attacks on vital computer networks aimed at stealing commercially and economically sensitive information.

Nearly 300 UK government departments and businesses, considered part of the country's critical national infrastructure, have been bombarded with a sophisticated electronic attack for several months, according to the National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre.

The infrastructure includes communications, energy, finance, health, transport and government sectors. Similar attacks have been reported in other countries, including the US.

“We have never seen anything like this in terms of the industrial scale of this series of attacks,” said Roger Cumming, director of NISCC, which protects critical infrastructure from electronic threats.

“This is not a few hackers sitting in their bedrooms trying to steal bank account details from individuals. This is aimed at organisations, targeted at gaining information and is extremely well organised and well structured.

Many of the attacks appeared to be coming through internet addresses located in Asia. They have come via unsolicited e-mails that contain a “Trojan”, or malicious computer code contained inside an apparently harmless file. When opened, the code secretly installs itself on to the user's computer, allowing a remote attacker to gain control of the system.

Medical Moves

Philips is known as Europe’s largest consumer electronics manufacturer, but it has spent time, energy and a lot of advertising on its shift to medical technology both in hospitals and in the home.

At a medical day with analysts, Gerard Kleisterlee, chief executive, talked up the future for Philips’ medical division both in terms of hospital equipment and home healthcare.

Mr Kleisterlee enthused about the prospects for interactive care through broadband internet and television saying that it would mark a major change in how healthcare is provided.

“With 80 per cent of healthcare costs for chronic conditions, we will be unable to afford care homes,” said Mr Kleisterlee. “The future of healthcare will be taking better care of ourselves so we don’t get ill in the first place.”

He added that Philips was in a unique position to take advantage of this shift toward home health because of the company’s experience in marketing consumer electronics to the public.

An ageing population will make medical devices in the home more popular, although it may take a bit of time before a home defibrillator becomes as common as a DVD player.

BT brings mobiles home

BT hoped to lure back customers that have discarded their landlines for mobile phones with the launch of its long-awaited dual-mode mobile phone.

The new product - branded “BT fusion” - allows users to make calls over the cheaper fixed-line network from home. The device, which was two years in the making, is a world first as it switches seamlessly from the mobile network to a BT broadband line. transferring the user onto the landline when they come into range.

The user therefore has the convenience of using their mobile while paying the much lower rates and enjoying better quality of a landline service.

The group, which spun off its mobile unit - now O2 - is partnering up with Vodafone for the service.

It will be tested out on 400 customers and will be made widely available in September. Customers will need to be hooked up to a BT broadband line, and also pay for a BT telephone line.

The launch phone is a Motorola v560.

Asia’s hidden role

Asia has long been the engine room for technology - most of the world’s electronic products are already made there.

But the region is fast becoming the wheelhouse too. While fundamental research and innovation still tend to be more the province of US and European companies and universities, Asia plays a hidden role with many of the best IT researchers in the west and especially in the US being Asian expatriates.

IBM Research, the world’s most prolific IT research organisation, says about 30 per cent of IBM scientists and engineers working in the US come from Asia, mainly from India and China. A similar proportion of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are Asian originally.

Most of these expatriates expect to stay in the west, but enough return home to provide vital scientific and managerial leadership for IT companies and research labs in Asia. The ones who stay can often be a useful conduit for technical interchanges between their original and adopted countries.

The steady flow of engineers from Asia became a flood in the 1990s. From around 50,000 a year, the number of relevant work visas issued by the US jumped to more than 200,000, says TiE, an organisation that represents Indian entrepreneurs.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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