UK accuses Russia of ordering multiple cyber-attacks, including the DNC hack

The UK Foreign Affairs office has increased the pressure on Russia following the Skripal poisoning

For the first time, Britain accused Russia of having a hand in the DNC hacks that interfered with 2016 US elections
For the first time, Britain accused Russia of having a hand in the DNC hacks that interfered with 2016 US elections

The British government has accused Russian military intelligence of being responsible for a spate of cyber-attacks carried out on the orders of Vladimir Putin. British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said that the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had found that a number of hackers widely known to have been conducting attacks around the world were covers for the Russian intelligence service.

The claim is a precursor to the announcement of further UK intelligence revelations of Russian state involvement in the poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei Skripal, the Russian double agent.

Hunt claimed the attacks had been conducted "in flagrant violation of international law, had affected citizens in a large number of countries, including Russia, and had cost national economies millions of pounds." 

The Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) had previously denied any hand in the Skripal poisoning earlier this year. However, British PM Theresa May had made a pledge last month to reveal the full extent of GRU disruption in the wake of the poisoning. Skripal had himself been a member of the GRU since 1979 before defecting to the British.

The UK government has been unusually aggressive in identifying the two men suspected of travelling to Salisbury to poison Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, as Russian intelligence agents. Official Russian explanations for the two men's visit to Salisbury have been widely ridiculed, prompting tensions inside the Russian government over the inept handling of the episode.

Britain's foreign office identified four cyber-attacks as Russian sourced: in October 2017, a BadRabbit ransomware rendered IT inoperable and it caused chaos in the Kiev metro, the Odessa airport, Russia's central bank and two media outlets.

British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt
British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt

A 2017 hacking of confidential medical files of international athletes under the control of the World Anti-Doping Agency were also attributed to Russia for the first time. Other hacks include the small cyber-assaults on a British-based TV station which allowed Russian access to the outlet for almost a year, and the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) which was used to glean thousands of internal party emails published by WikiLeaks and others to mount pressure on the year's US presidential election campaign.

This is the first time that the UK has made the claim that the DNC interferences were the responsibility of Russian hackers.

In an accompanying statement, Hunt said: “These cyber-attacks serve no legitimate national security interest, instead impacting the ability of people around the world to go about their daily lives free from interference, and even their ability to enjoy sport.

Hunt described the attacks as "reckless" and "indiscriminate", especially in its objective to undermine and interfere with elections in other countries. "They are even prepared to damage Russian companies and Russian citizens," Hunt said. "This pattern of behaviour demonstrates their desire to operate without regard to international law or established norms and to do so with a feeling of impunity and without consequences."

Prof Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute said that most intelligence services try to gain advantage by stealing secrets of their adversaries. "The GRU's activities go well beyond this traditional peacetime espionage role. By launching disruptive operations that threaten life in target societies, they blur the line between war and peace."

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