Russian spies accused of sustained campaign to hack phones and emails of UK politicians and journalists

7 December 2023, 12:15

British politicians and civil society have been targeted by Russia
British politicians and civil society have been targeted by Russia. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Russian hackers have been targeting MPs, civil servants and journalists as part of a plot to "meddle in British politics".

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The government has pointed the finger at Russia's spy agency the FSB - the successor to the Cold War KGB - for waging a campaign of "cyber interference".

They have been "selectively" leaking and amplifying sensitive information, Foreign Office minister Leo Docherty said.

"I can confirm today that the Russian Federal Security Services, the FSB, is behind a sustained effort to interfere in our democratic processes," he told MPs.

"They have targeted members of this House and the [House of Lords]. They have been targeting civil servants, journalists and NGOs.

"They have been targeting high-profile individuals and entities with a clear intent - using information they obtain to meddle in British politics."

Read more: Ukrainian 'traitor' ex-MP assassinated in Russia after he called for Putin to use weapons of mass destruction

Russian spies have targeted MPs and wider civil society
Russian spies have targeted MPs and wider civil society. Picture: Alamy

Mr Docherty explained that a group called Centre 18, which is part of the FSB, has been carrying out "cyber espionage operations" agains the UK, along with a subordinate group called Star Blizzard.

They have used impersonation to compromise email accounts in both the public sector and wider society, creating "false accounts" that appear legitimate and building up a rapport before sending a "malicious link".

Read more: Nato has three years to prepare for a Russian attack, Poland warns as fears grow over another Putin offensive

"Using these means the group have selectively leaked and amplified the release of sensitive information in service of Russia's goals of confrontation," he said.

Universities, the media and "wider civil society" have been targeted, besides politicians. Victims and parliamentary targets have been identified and spoken to.

"Many of these individuals and organisations play a vital role in our democracy," he said of the targets.

Putin's spies are trying to meddle in British democracy, the Foreign Office believes
Putin's spies are trying to meddle in British democracy, the Foreign Office believes. Picture: Alamy

Mr Docherty is revealing the plot - which was uncovered by UK spies with help from allies - as he wants to be "as open as we can", in contrast "to the efforts of the KGB successors to exert influence from the shadows".

He described it as "unacceptable" and said two individuals have been sanctioned - adding them to a long list of Russians who have been punished in recent years, with most targeted over their country's invasion of Ukraine.

Russia's ambassador has been summoned to be told that hacking the UK has "consequences".

David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, said the plot was "an attack not only on individuals but on British democracy, on all sides of this House and on the public that we represent".

Britain and Russia have endured terrible relations after the latter embarked on a campaign of destabilisation in Europe.

Besides its invasion of Georgia in 2008 and its later attacks on Ukraine, the Salisbury poisonings and fears of Moscow's attempts to interfere with British democracy have kept relations at their worst level since the Cold War.

Recently, Vladimir Putin said he hoped for better relations between Russia and the UK as Britain's new ambassador Nigel Casey presented his diplomatic credentials at the Kremlin.

"The current state of affairs in the dialogue with London is common knowledge, and let us hope that the situation will change for the better in the interests of our two countries and peoples," Putin said.

As rumours swirl about his health, the Russian leader kept the new diplomats about 70ft away from him in a massive hall as he raised "sanitary" concerns.

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