British banks are to take part in a cyber attack exercise designed to test their response to a collapse of telecoms, internet and other systems.

Henry Harrison, technical director at BAE Systems Detica, said it was "very pleasing" to see the financial sector taking the threat of cyber attacks seriously, and he hoped that others would follow suit.

“The key to this sort of exercise is using sufficiently representative scenarios. This is as true for cyber-attack scenarios as it is for financial disaster scenarios; while it is simple to imagine situations such as a total loss of communications, realistic scenarios should also include the loss of confidence in the integrity of data or key systems, or indeed the loss of confidence in the confidentiality of communications between different players in the system,” he said.

Sian John, UK security strategist at Symantec, said: “With more than 80 companies lined up to take part in the exercise today, there are likely to be plenty of nervous bankers in the UK waiting to see the results of this test.

“Often you see security being considered at the last minute rather than being engineered into projects and infrastructures from day one, so it's very encouraging to see an important sector like this taking part in preventative measures.

“An exercise like this will demonstrate exactly how robust their systems are and where the vulnerabilities lie. It may mean they need to reconsider backup sites, for example, or rethink security altogether. Whatever the results, it's a nice illustration that financial institutions are proactively looking to manage risk.”