Russian hackers 'stole top secret UK-US trade documents' from Liam Fox's emails

3 August 2020, 18:52

Former trade secretary Liam Fox's emails were allegedly targeted by Russian hackers
Former trade secretary Liam Fox's emails were allegedly targeted by Russian hackers. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Russian hackers have been accused of stealing classified UK-US trade documents by hacking into Liam Fox's emails prior to last year's election, according to reports.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused the "Russian actors" of trying to influence the 2019 general election by leaking the documents in the weeks prior to the vote and "amplifying" them online.

The papers, taken from the former trade secretary's emails, were highlighted by then-Labour-leader Jeremy Corbyn who said they proved the Conservatives were preparing to sell the NHS to US pharmaceutical companies.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Monday that its investigators were leading a criminal probe into the hack.

Reuters, citing two anonymous sources, reported on Monday that Russians are suspected of hacking Dr Fox's account on multiple occasions between 12 July and 21 October last year.

It said the account was thought to be the victim of a "spear phishing" message, where users are tricked into handing over sensitive details such as log-in details and passwords.

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A spokeswoman for the NCA said: "We can confirm that the NCA is leading the investigation but we cannot comment further as this is a live investigation."

The Cabinet Office declined to comment because of the criminal investigation being led by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and instead defended the government's IT systems.

"There is an ongoing criminal investigation into how the documents were acquired, and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this point," a government spokeswoman said.

"But as you would expect, the government has very robust systems in place to protect the IT systems of officials and staff."

The spokeswoman did not answer questions on whether hackers had accessed a government or personal email account, while an aide to Dr Fox declined to comment.

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An NCSC spokesman said: "We have worked closely with political parties for several years on how to protect and defend against cyberattacks - including publishing advice on our website.

"There is an ongoing criminal investigation and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage."

The document appeared online months before the election but received little attention before Mr Corbyn highlighted it at a press conference in November.

He has said it is a "bogus claim" that Labour received any Russian support while the nation denies it has interfered in any UK election.