A Calgary computer expert says foreign countries would have good reason to try to attack the Alberta government's computer systems.

CBC News has learned that at least three federal government departments have been cyberattacked. Hackers, using computer servers based in China, have gained access to highly classified federal information in the past few weeks.

The Chinese government has denied any involvement in the attacks, which apparently managed to take control of computers in the offices of senior government executives as part of a scheme to steal the key passwords that unlock entire government data systems.

Tom Keenan, a computer science professor at the University of Calgary who specializes in information security, said foreign governments would likely have interest in provincial databases, as well.

"You know, Alberta collects the [Energy Resources Conservation Board] data, they collect tax returns from companies, they collect all kinds of things," said Keenan.

"So if you wanted to really know what was going on deep, deep inside an oil company, the Alberta government computers would be a treasure trove."

Keenan said Alberta is doing a pretty good job with computer security, and noted this latest incident would serve as a reminder of the importance of keeping sensitive information under wraps.

Alberta's auditor general found deficiencies in the province's computer security in 2008 and recommended a central security office be established to ensure the protection of all databases. 

The government immediately accepted those recommendations.