Ashok Vaswani, Barclays UK CEO.

Barclays

Ashok Vaswani, Barclays UK CEO.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The CEO of Barclays UK says the bank is working “very, very closely with the government” to guard against cyber attacks, amid a recent ratcheting up of suspected state-sponsored attacks.

Ashok Vaswani told Business Insider at the Money2020 Europe conference in Copenhagen this week: “For us, our vigilance is as high as it can be and we are investing as much as we can to make sure all the systems are protected.

“We spend a lot of time with government officials and foreign officials and stuff like that because, ultimately, any cyber threat which affects us also affects the country, whether that’s the United States or whether that’s the UK or any other place where we do business. We’re working closely with the agencies that monitor this kind of thing at the government level.”

Cyber security has dominated the headlines over the last 18-months, with a string of high-profile, international attacks.

Russia is strongly suspected of attempting to “hack” the 2016 US election, leaking a trove of Democratic National Committee emails, and Britain’s NHS was among the thousands of organisations disrupted by the WannaCry ransomware attack last month. North Korea has been strongly linked to that attack.

This week a second ransomware attack called Petya also spread across the world, with Russia suspected of being behind the attack. Experts also suggest that Russia or North Korea may have been behind the hacking of UK MPs’ emails last week.

These digital salvos are part of a new cyber cold war that appears to be breaking out between nations like Russia and North Korea and the West. Essential utilities and services, including banks, can be used as proxy targets by attackers trying to disrupt how a country functions. JPMorgan was hit by a massive cyber attack in 2014 and investigators suspect that Russia was behind the attack.

Vaswani was reluctant to discuss any possible state-sponsored attempted attacks on Barclays or the wider UK banking system, saying: “Clearly, you’re seeing an increase in the number of attacks. Hard to say whether this is state sponsored, this is non-state sponsored. That’s hard. I think the government would be in a better position to figure that kind of thing out because they can see it across a bunch of different frontiers.”

He added: “We’re working very, very closely with the government. This is something where our interests are completely, 100% aligned.”

The UK and US governments, along with bodies like the Bank of England and the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, ran a huge “cyber war game” with international banks in 2015 to see how they would respond to a coordinated cyber attack.

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