Suspected Russian hacking operation 'affected British groups'

15 April 2021, 19:20

Dominic Raab has accused Russian intelligence of being behind a major cyber attack
Dominic Raab has accused Russian intelligence of being behind a major cyber attack. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

British public sector bodies were among the victims of a Russian spy agency’s major cyber operation, the Foreign Office (FCDO) has said.

Thousands of organisations across the West were affected in the so-called SolarWinds attack, including Nato and the European Parliament.

The US has expelled 10 Russian diplomats after it accused the Kremlin of targeting government agencies and attempting to interfere with last year's presidential election.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK and US would stand together against what he described as Russia's "malign behaviour" as his department assessed the country's SVR was "highly likely" responsible for the attack.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) - part of GCHQ – said a "low single digit number" of public sector bodies had been affected.

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Raab said: "We see what Russia is doing to undermine our democracies.

"The UK and US are calling out Russia's malicious behaviour, to enable our international partners and businesses at home to better defend and prepare themselves against this kind of action."

The attack saw the IT services firm SolarWinds become compromised in what is thought to be one of the most serious cyber attacks suffered by the US. The attack was discovered in November.

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It is believed Russian hackers infected its widely-used Orion software which let them access systems in at least nine US agencies and 18,000 organisations worldwide.

The impact on the UK has been assessed as "low" and the Government said it helped affected organisations to ensure they were "rapidly mitigated".

The NSCS believes the hackers were a group known as Cozy Bear or the The Dukes, which the FCDO said were linked to the SVR.

The UK summoned the Russian ambassador over the cyber attack
The UK summoned the Russian ambassador over the cyber attack. Picture: PA

Russia's ambassador, Andrei Kelin, was summoned to the Foreign Office over the incident.

In response to the US's diplomatic expulsions and new sanctions on six companies and 32 individuals and entities, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that America's "aggressive behaviour" would "undoubtedly trigger a resolute retaliation".

"Washington should realise that it will have to pay a price for the degradation of the bilateral ties," she said.

The latest exchanges come amid rising tension between Washington and Moscow following a build-up of Russian forces on the border with Ukraine - seen by some analysts as an attempt by the Kremlin to test the resolve of the new US president Joe Biden.