Marks and Sparks, Tesco and other family friendly shops could be the next target of cyber criminals.

Some of the world's elite hackers today warned IT security experts that it was "only a matter of time" before the UK's biggest retail chains could become victims of hack attacks.

Steve Armstrong, who teaches seminars in hacking techniques, laid it down: "If someone wants to have a pop at the UK, they are unlikely to go for the government web servers. They will go for the lower hanging fruit - companies which are seen as good representatives of the country".

"The likes of Tesco, Marks & Spencer and B&Q can be seen as legitimate targets."

"At the moment chief executives are only interested in the bottom line. But remember - if goes down, that's a lot of shopping."

The panel added that retail chains may, however, be too small a target for some more ambitious hackers, who will want to hit no less than the government.

The panelists, who revealed their identities for the first time this year, pointed to the successful attack last year which crippled the Estonian government for a fortnight.

As one expert stated: "This kind of attack can happen at any time. And it will happen".