Russian hackers are “selectively” leaking material obtained by hacking the devices of members of Parliament, Civil Servants, think tanks, journalists, and NGOs in Western states to “undermine trust in politics”, the UK government has asserted.
The Russian Federal Security Services, the FSB, is “behind a sustained effort to interfere with our democratic processes”, British government ministers have announced, revealing they were subjecting Russian hackers to sanctions and encouraging targets to improve their cyber security. The hacking efforts have been ongoing for many years, it was claimed, and are targeted both against prominent figures and organisations in the United Kingdom and other “like-minded states”.
Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) minister Leo Docherty revealed the campaign of hacking in remarks to the House of Commons on Thursday, telling the house the FSB is “behind a sustained effort to interfere with our democratic processes… They have been targeting high profile targets and entities with clear intent to use the information they obtained to meddle in British politics.”
Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden, the government official with responsibility for resilience against threats, stated in his own remarks on the hacking campaign that those targeted by nations including “China, North Korea, Iran, and Russia” were “Members of Parliament, Civil Servants, think tanks, journalists, and NGOs”.
Hundereds of MPs and government officials are said to have been hacked with emails compromised by a FSB cell called “Star Blizzard”.
Docherty said the hacking represented a “a clear and persistent pattern of behaviour” of “attempted interference in political and democratic processes”. Dowden said the efforts were “Wagner-style sub-state hackers to do their dirty work” which “selectively leaked and amplified information designed to undermine trust in politics both in the United Kingdom and in like-minded states”.
A report in The Times claimed that while attempts to undermine democracy in the UK by Star Blizzard had not yet been sucessful, the worry remained they were planning to “leak damaging information ahead of next year’s election”.
The expulsion of Russian spies from European states has been a recurring theme since Moscow launched it’s re-invasion of Ukraine last year. In the longer term, opponents of the Brexit vote have also claimed Russian interference to explain their own failure to prevail in the 2016 referendum.
Some of these claims have been tested in court, with a UK journalist paying damages and costs to a prominent Brexiteer for claiming head clandestine links to the Russian government. The Electoral Commission, and the National Crime Agency both found there was no evidence of criminal activity or Russian “dark money” and the Guardian journalist was found guilty of defamation.