Putin’s Russian cyberattacks could target UK’s infrastructure
President Putin is tasking his army of hackers with targeting British critical infrastructure, deploying tactics tested in Ukraine, defence sources have warned.
Kyiv has been hit by waves of Russian cyberattacks since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, with targets including railways and the national power grid.
In the lead-up to last year’s invasion, cyberattacks took down Ukrainian government and banking services in an apparent attempt to enable Russian troops to cross the border.
There are fears that British infrastructure could be targeted with similar tactics, The Times understands.
Ukrainian officials visited London this week to share information about Russian tactics and advise the British government on cybersecurity.
Viktor Zhora, one of Ukraine’s top cyber officials, said the Kremlin had deployed hackers as part of a campaign targeting Ukraine’s infrastructure.
“Russia has targeted different parts of the Ukrainian economy — transportation, critical infrastructure, media, financial institutions — to bring as much impact as they can,” he said.
“Russia has highly professional military hackers who have served in the intelligence services for a long time. The UK should be aware of these potential evolving threats from Russia.”
Last year James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, revealed that tech experts had been working remotely on behalf of the British government to foil Russian cyberattacks since February as part of a £6.35 million support package.
Tactics employed by Russian hackers included piggy-backing on Ukrainian telecoms networks to corrupt CCTV cameras and citizens’ mobiles and changing the ticker tape during a live TV broadcast given by President Zelensky.
In addition to phishing attacks, Russian agents are suspected of infiltrating ministries in Kyiv and smuggling out USB sticks with sensitive information.
In recent years, the National Cyber Security Centre, an arm of GCHQ, has become more explicit in blaming Russia for individual attacks. A Russian hacking collective called APT29 was identified as being behind cyberattacks in 2020 targeting drug companies and research groups involved in the development of the coronavirus vaccine.
The following year, the British and American governments publicly blamed the SVR, the Russian foreign intelligence agency, for the SolarWinds attacks, during which hackers stole national security information from US government agencies.
Paul Chichester, director of operations at the NCSC, said the partnership with Kyiv would improve cyberdefence for both the UK and Ukraine.
“Ukraine has defended itself resolutely in cyberspace in the face of Russian aggression and the UK has been proud to support that defence,” he said.
“This visit is an important moment in our relationship and an excellent opportunity to learn from each other.”
Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, said: “Their fight against Russian barbarism goes beyond the battlefield and the terror being inflicted on civilian populations.”