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UK spies to share data with businesses

Some of the U.K.'s biggest companies will gain access to highly classified intelligence from the country's spy agency GCHQ to tackle the growing threat posed from state-backed hackers.

The trial scheme will see GCHQ release information "at scale" first to companies that are government suppliers, and then firms that are part of "critical national infrastructure", the spy agency announced on Tuesday at a cybersecurity conference in London called IA14.

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The move comes amid an increasing number of state-backed hacking attacks as well as cybersecurity threats that could damage companies and leave people's personal data at risk of being stolen.

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"An organization is only as strong as its weakest point. Even the smallest of chinks in a company's armour can have far reaching implications. So the responsibility for good cybersecurity is shared at every level," Francis Maude, the Minister for Cabinet Office said in a speech at IA14.

The comments follow a slew of major international hacking attacks. Maude revealed that a state-sponsored hostile group gained access to a system administration account on the U.K. government's secure internal intranet system, highlighting the threat facing countries around the world. However, the attack was "discovered early and dealt with".

Europe's top spy chief earlier this year told CNBC digital "war-like activities" could threaten economic growth in the region, while the U.S. filed criminal charges against five Chinese military officers for stealing data from companies.

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Last month, ecommerce website eBay revealed it was hacked by cyber attackers who gained access to the details of 128 million active users after getting access to the login credentials of a handful of employees.

The flurry of breaches has worried companies already struggling to keep up with the latest hacking innovations as the government pushes for companies to be better protected. While many companies have signaled their intention to boost spending on defenses, they often lack the technological advancement to be effective.

GCHQ also played a role alongside the U.K.'s National Crime Agency and U.S. authorities to disrupt one of the biggest malware operations ever seen. The global operation announced earlier this month was an attempt to bring down the so-called GameOverZeus malware, a bug aimed at stealing banking information. It affected over 1 million computers, according to the FBI.

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