Foreign spies targeted a senior British defence official in a sophisticated spear phishing operation that aimed to steal military secrets.
The plan was foiled last year when the official became suspicious of an email she received from a contact she had met at a conference.
The official showed the highly personalised message to Ministry of Defence IT experts, who then found the attachment contained malware designed to leak classified material to a foreign intelligence agency.
The MoD declined to comment on the incident, which was briefly discussed at a recent conference by Simon Kershaw, its head of defence security and assurance.
The Register, however, has established that the foreign spies' target was Joanna Hole, who until her retirement in March was the MoD's head of safety and sustainable development. She had responsibility for business continuity and regularly briefed ministers and forces chiefs.
In a previous role, according to her LinkedIn profile, Hole represented the MoD at the highly sensitive COBRA emergency committee.
Kershaw did not name the foreign power behind the operation, but China is the most likely culprit. Its huge online espionage effort was a major motivator of the recent government decision to spend £650m in improved cyber security over four years.
The MoD is to create its Defence Cyber Operations Group as part of the investment. ®