A LONG-AWAITED bombshell report on Russia’s activities in the UK has concluded there has been Russian cyber intrusion into the country’s Critical National Infrastructure, sparking massive fears around national security.
The report from the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which has been heavily redacted for security reasons, warns since 2014 “Russia has carried out malicious cyber activity in order to assert itself aggressively in a number of spheres, including attempting to influence the democratic elections of other countries”. They point to reports Russia was behind the cyber-enabled “hack and leak” operation to compromise the accounts of members of the French political party En Marche! in the weeks leading up to the country’s elections in 2017. But the inquiry quickly warns Russia has “undertaken cyber pre-positioning activity on other nations” Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) – including intrusion in the UK
The heavily-redacted report states: “Since 2014, Russia has carried out malicious cyber activity in order to assert itself aggressively in a number of spheres, including attempting to influence the democratic elections of other countries.
“For example, it has been widely reported that the Russians were behind the cyber-enabled ‘hack and leak’ operation to compromise the accounts of members of the French political party En Marche! in the run-up to the 2017 French elections.
“Russia has also undertaken cyber pre-positioning activity on other nations’ Critical National Infrastructure (CNI).
“The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has advised that there is Russian cyber intrusion into the UK’s CNI – particularly marked in the sectors.”
The report also says “Russian GRU actors” have been behind phishing attempts against several UK Government departments, during the early stages of the investigation into the Salisbury attacks in February 2018, which saw the attempted killing of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a deadly nerve agent.
The ISC added Russia has looked to “employ organised crime groups to supplement its cyber skills”.
The heavily-redacted report says: “GCHQ has also advised that Russian GRU actors have orchestrated phishing attempts against Government departments – to take one example, there were attempts against ***, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) during the early stages of the investigation into the Salisbury attacks.
“Russia has sought to employ organised crime groups to supplement its cyber skills: SIS has observed that “this comes to the very muddy nexus between business and corruption and state power in Russia
“GCHQ told the Committee that there is a quite considerable balance of intelligence now which shows the links between serious and organised crime groups and Russian state activity” and that “we’ve seen more evidence of serious and organised crime being connected at high levels of Russian state and Russian intelligence”, in what it described as a “symbiotic relationship”.
The ISC also warns: “Russia’s cyber capability, when combined with its willingness to deploy it in amalicious capacity, is a matter of grave concern, and poses an immediate and urgent threat to our national security.”
But the report also questions whether the UK Government “took its eye off the ball because of its focus on counter-terrorism”, and says until recently, the Government had “badly underestimated the response required to the Russian threat – and is still playing catch up”.
The ISC says: “It has been clear for some time that Russia under Putin has moved from potential partner to established threat, fundamentally unwilling to adhere to international law – the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 were stark indicators of this.
“We therefore question whether the Government took its eye off the ball because of its focus on counter-terrorism: it was the opinion of the Committee that until recently the Government had badly underestimated the response required to the Russian threat – and is still playing catch up.
“Russia poses a tough intelligence challenge and our intelligence agencies must have the tools they need to tackle it.
“In particular, new legislation must be introduced to tackle foreign spies: the Official Secrets Act is not fit for purpose and while this goes unrectified the UK intelligence community’s hands are tied.
“More broadly, we need a continuing international consensus against Russian aggressive action.”
The 50-page report comes following an 18-month investigation by the Intelligence and Security Committee, chaired by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve.
This report was initially cleared for release by spies in October last year, but Boris Johnson sparked an outcry by delaying its publication.
In November 32017, the ISC said it would investigate Russian activities, but the formal inquiry did not interview witnesses until the following year.
It was only then finalised and cleared for publication through official channels last October.
Mr Johnson had refused to give the go-ahead for its publication before Parliament dissolved prior to the general election in December.
This sparked a furious reaction in Westminster, as at that point, the ISC also had to disband and only reconstituted last week.