Recent documents revealed by ex-NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowdon have revealed that the UK Government and police force were actively engaged in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
The attacks, which spam a website with more traffic than it is used to, consequently knocking it out of operation, were also used by GCHQ to counter DDoS attacks from hacktivists.
Graham Cluley, cyber-security expert, writes: "One group of denial-of-service attackers get caught and sent to jail. The other group seemingly gets away with it, because they have the approval of the British government."
He is referring to members of the LulzSec hacking group, affiliated with the Anonymous movement, that were arrested last year after they were found guilty of launching DDoS attacks.
NBC News reported that GCHQ's actions make the British government "the first Western government known to have conducted such an attack."
GCHQ retaliated to NBC by saying: "All of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework...which ensure[s] that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All of our operational processes rigorously support this position."
RT has quoted Michael Leiter, the former head of the US National Counterterrorism Center and now an NBC News analyst, as saying: "Law enforcement and intelligence officials must be able to pursue individuals who are going far beyond speech and into the realm of breaking the law: defacing and stealing private property that happens to be online."
However, he said that there must be limitations.
"No one should be targeted for speech or thoughts, but there is no reason law enforcement officials should unilaterally declare law breakers safe in the online environment," said Leiter.