The British and United States stock exchanges have reportedly enlisted the help of the security services after finding out they were the victims of cyber attacks.

According to media reports, the London Stock Exchange (LSE) is investigating a terrorist cyber attack on its headquarters last year, while US officials have traced an attack on one of its exchanges to Russia.

A report from The Times said that it had been told by ‘well-placed intelligence sources' that the London Stock Exchange was trying to find the source of the attack, while a cyber security expert is reported as saying that the threat is ‘advanced and persistent'.

The Associated Press said that officials suspect the attacks were designed to spread panic among markets and destabilise western financial institutions.

Mehlam Shakir, CTO of Nitro Security, said: “Protecting the critical infrastructure from cyber attacks has to be a top priority for all nations in the information age. The London Stock Exchange attack not only serves as another ugly reminder of how insanely vulnerable we are to cyber attacks, but also the degree of sophistication that is needed to combat advanced attacks which disguise easily with normal activity and go undiscovered for months.

“Organisations need to have a unified defence strategy with tightly integrated security solutions at the perimeter, server, application and data layers so attacks can be quickly contained.

“Also a new breed of tools will be necessary with better predictive features that can baseline device, user and peer-group activity and accurately detect and alert on developing threats in near real-time.”

Nick Seaver, partner in security, privacy and resilience at Deloitte, said: “The number of attacks against the west has gone up enormously in the last few years, so a stock market would be priority to attack.

“They would have all the security expertise and more, the difficulty is that attacks are getting more sophisticated as is the defence, and there are groups of people on the planet who spend their time trying to figure out what controls are in place and the business goes up as more is spent on it.”