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UK government intelligence experts are investigating whether an ‘outage’ at the London Stock Exchange (LSE) last August may have been caused by a cyber-attack, it has emerged.

People familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal that GCHQ’s inquiries focus around the August 16 incident, which was described by the LSE at the time as “a technical software issue” which affected trading in FTSE 100 and 250 stocks, among others.

This led to one of the stock exchange’s worst outages in eight years, delaying the start of trading by over 90 minutes.

GCHQ reportedly wants to know whether hackers may have been able to take advantage of what was an IT system update at the time to disrupt markets.

Cyber-threats are listed in the group’s annual report as one of the LSE’s primary operational risks, with ransomware, data theft, DDoS and cloud computing all mentioned by name.

“The group’s technology and operational support providers, internal and third-party, could suffer a security breach resulting in the loss or compromise of sensitive information (both internal and external) or loss of services. Such a breach could materialize as a result of weaknesses in system controls or processes, or through the inadvertent or malicious actions of employees, contractors or vendors,” it added.

“A major information security breach that results in data and intellectual property loss, system unavailability or sensitive data leakage, could have a significant negative impact on our reputation, financial results and the confidence of our clients and could lead to fines and regulatory censure.”

For its part, the LSE has maintained that the incident was the result of a software configuration issue following an upgrade.

“London Stock Exchange takes its commitment to run orderly markets for its members seriously and has thoroughly investigated the root cause of the issue to mitigate against any future incidents,” a spokesperson told the paper.

The UK Treasury is also said to be involved in the investigation.

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