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Defence Secretary: Putin’s Cyber Attacks Seek To Destabilise West

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Defence Secretary Fallon says Russian hackers are targetting critical Western infrastructure

British Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has issued a stark warning about the scale of Russian cyber attacks.

Speaking at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, Sir Michael warned that Russia is carrying out a sustained campaign of cyber attacks targeting democracy and critical infrastructure in the West.

But the Kremlin has dismissed allegations made by the Defence Secretary, calling the accusations “baseless”.

Russian special forces © Darren Baker, Shutterstock 2012Russian Aggression

In his speech at St Andrews entitled ‘Coping with Russia’, Sir Michael focused on Russia’s military resurgence in recent years, and commented specifically about its behaviour in ongoing cyberattacks against Western targets.

He highlighted Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its continuing interference in Ukraine. He also pointed out that Russia continues to deny that MH-17 was shot down killing, 283 passengers, ten of them British, by a Russian provided missile.

The Defence Secretary also touched upon the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in London, which an inquiry linked directly to the highest levels in Russia. And he talked about Russia’s peddeling of ‘fake news’.

Sir Michael said that Russia was actively testing NATO and the West, and he pointed to Russia’s cyber attack capabilities.

“Finally, there is the use of cyber weaponry to disrupt critical infrastructure and disable democratic machinery,” said Sir Michael. “France knows this. In April 2015 TV5Monde was taken off air by a group calling itself the Cyber Caliphate. French investigators suggested the Kremlin was behind the cyber-attack.

“Months later Germany was targeted too. Its lower house of parliament’s network was shut down by a hacker group the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) said was steered by the Russian state’.”

He also pointed out that Russia targeted the Dutch referendum, and in October, Bulgaria was subject to what President Plevneliev called “the most heaviest and intense cyber attack…conducted in south-east Europe…an attack on Bulgarian democracy…conducted with a high probability from Russia.”

And Russian activities did not stop there.

“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence found that Russia targeted the US Presidential election and that its ‘intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 US presidential election, including targets associated with both major US political parties’, said Sir Michael.

“Meanwhile, the Head of the German BfV intelligence agency warned the Kremlin is ‘seeking to influence public opinion and decision-making processes’ ahead of this year’s German elections,” he said.

Russia spy - Shutterstock - © gubh83

Testing The West

“Russia is clearly testing NATO and the West. It is seeking to expand its sphere of influence, destabilise countries, and weaken the Alliance. It is undermining national security for many allies and the international rules-based system.

Sir Michael backed the calls of American President Donald Trump that European countries must meet their defence spending obligations: “After we leave, EU countries will pay only 20 percent of NATO’s bills.

“Cyber defence is now part of NATO’s core task. NATO must defend itself as effectively in the cyber sphere as it does in the air, on land, and at sea. So adversaries know there is a price to pay if they use cyber weapons.

“Alliance members are strengthening their capability, collectively and individual, to resist any form of attack. The UK is playing its part by almost doubling our investment on defensive and offensive cyber capability to £1.9 billion.”

Russia has reacted angrily to Sir Michael’s speech, and described his allegations as baseless.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Sky as telling reporters: “We express regret for this hostile stance of the minister. We are sure that such allegations are baseless.”

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