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‘One of the World’s Most Cyber-Attacked Nations’: Parliamentary Report Confirms Russian Interference Attempts in UK Elections – and Slams Braverman’s Inaction to Prioritise ‘Stopping the Boats’

The former Home Secretary showed no interest in urgent threats to the UK as the National Security Strategy Committee reveals that Vladimir Putin made attempts to interfere with the last General Election

Then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow in 2017. Photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP/Alamy

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“The UK Government is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general election”, according to a stark new report on an issue consistently under-investigated by the Conservative Government and under-reported by the established press.

The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, comprising MPs and peers from both Houses of Parliament, is alarmed that attempts to interfere may be made in the next general election – with no proper protection for politicians and political parties – and have sought an urgent meeting with the National Cyber Security Centre to discuss the matter.

“It is unclear if the support for ‘high-risk individuals’ will be offered to all parties before, during, and after an election and what work the NCSC is doing to preserve the integrity of free and fair elections in the UK overall,” the Committee said. “This work is vital to defending democracy and providing impartial support.”

The disclosure has brought condemnation from MPs and the advocacy group The Citizens, since the Government has previously denied there were any attempts of Russian interference in the 2019 General Election and during the 2016 EU Referendum.

In a striking conclusion, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy states that its report “confirms that Russia’s Federal Security Service has carried out multiple attacks on the UK since at least as early as 2015 and at key times including around the 2019 General Election” and that, despite this, and while still refusing to carry out a full investigation, “the Government continues to assert today that attempts to interfere with UK politics and democracy have not been successful”. 

The committee states that this position is “untenable” and called on the Government to “now, finally, commence a full investigation of foreign interference” as recommended by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s 2020 Russia Report.

It said that the National Cyber Security Centre believes a failure to do so “puts the UK’s democratic processes at grave risk”.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who first raised the issue of Russian interference in UK politics in December 2016, told Byline Times: “I am flabbergasted that, having denied or obfuscated this for years and resisted our legal attempts to get them to investigate Russian interference all the way through the courts, the Government is now admitting it’s been going on since before the Brexit Referendum, as many of us said at the time.” 

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A group of MPs, including Bradshaw, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Labour’s Chris Bryant, failed in their judicial review – an attempt to compel then Prime Minister Boris Johnson to investigate Russian interference in UK elections – after a judge ruled in 2021 that their concerns were a “matter for politics rather than the law”. 

Clara Maguire, executive director of The Citizens, said “the Government’s acknowledgements fly in the face” of what it told the High Court in 2021. “It is also significant that no mention of Brexit is made anywhere in this disclosure. We need to know who these named individuals are, what information has now come to light, when the Government discovered this, and why they denied the significance of these attacks in the court case we brought.” 


Stop the Boats But Ignore Russian Interference

The disclosure comes in a scathing committee report that states the entire UK is at risk from a catastrophic ransomware attack that could disrupt the country. 

It puts the blame squarely on former Home Secretary Suella Braverman for ignoring the issue to concentrate on illegal immigration and ‘stopping the boats’. It says she “showed no interest in it”, with clear political priority given to other matters such as illegal migration.

The report states that Braverman could have introduced new legislation to protect people from cyber and ransomware attacks but did not include it in the King’s Speech, and calls for the Home Office to be stripped of its responsibility for cyber security and ransomware and for this to be handed over to the Cabinet Office.

“Russia-based and Iran-based actors continue to conduct spear-phishing campaigns against politicians, journalists, activists and other groups”, according to the report. And “Russian-speaking actors are the source of most attributable ransomware attacks against UK targets”. 

“The Russian Government’s tacit (or even explicit) approval of these attacks is consistent with the Kremlin’s disruptive, zero-sum-game approach to the West,” the report adds. “It also provides revenue to the Putin regime’s well-oiled network of corruption and criminality.

“For many Russian hackers, ransomware is simply an easy way to make large sums of money, with next to no chance of being caught or prosecuted… the sheer scale of the threat demonstrates how vital it is that the UK is adequately resourced to upscale its defences, and to prepare for a major attack.”

The report cites the huge rise in ransomware attacks since the 2019 General Election with Sellafield, the NHS, private firms, local government, and the British Library, often given as targets as part of global attacks. 

One example it points to is the North Korean WannaCry ransomware attack of 2017, when 200,000 computers were attacked worldwide including the NHS which cost the health service £92 million.

The report states that 2021 was the best year for ransomware but this year it expects it is on the rise again, with suspected record pay-outs to hackers. Hackers are also getting more sophisticated and have increased their demands, going “game hunting” for big organisations and individuals and sometimes tripling their demands.

“Large swathes of UK critical national infrastructure remain vulnerable to ransomware, particularly in sectors still relying on legacy IT systems, and we have particular concerns about cash-strapped sectors such as health and local government,” the report states.

I Spent Years Imploring the Conservatives to Investigate Russian Interference. They Didn’t Listen

As a Labour MP investigating disinformation, Ian Lucas saw first-hand the Government’s attempts to duck the question of Russia


Previous Warnings Ignored

MPs Bradshaw, Lucas and the SNP’s Alyn Smith – with support from The Citizens – made a submission to the European Court of Human Rights last March in a claim that the UK Government is infringing their rights to free and fair elections by failing to act on the findings of the Russia Report. 

That inquiry found that the Government had “actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered” in the UK’s democratic processes and that the “outrage is that no one wanted to know if there was interference” or not. 

Then Prime Minister Johnson had suppressed the report in the run-up to the 2019 General Election for reasons unknown. Three years before, as Foreign Secretary, he claimed there was “not a sausage” of evidence of Russian President Vladimir Putin meddling in Brexit. Johnson’s associations with influential Russians have been explored in detail by Byline Times in recent years.

But the Russia Report was not the first inquiry into the issue that raised concerns.

The 2019 report of the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, examining disinformation and fake news, outlined the impact of the Russian Embassy in London and state-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik, in supporting the leave campaigns during the EU Referendum. It also revealed the role of social media operations through Russia’s Internet Research Agency and the now defunct data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica. 

Labour’s Dame Margaret Beckett, chair of the National Security Strategy Committee, said the UK has “the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s most cyber-attacked nations”. 

“It is clear to the committee that the Government’s investment in, and response to, this threat are not equally world-beating – leaving us exposed to catastrophic costs and destabilising political interference,” she said. 

“In the likely event of a massive, catastrophic ransomware attack, the failure to rise to meet this challenge will rightly be seen as an inexcusable strategic failure. 

“Our main legislative framework is irresponsibly outdated and the Government missed another chance to rectify this in the latest King’s Speech. The agencies tasked with detecting, responding to, and recovering from ransomware attacks – and degrading further attack capabilities – are under-resourced and lacking key skills and capabilities.

“If the UK is to avoid being held hostage to fortune, it is vital that ransomware becomes a more pressing political priority, and that more resources are devoted to tackling this pernicious threat to the UK’s national security.”

A Government spokesperson told Byline Times:  

“We welcome the JCNSS’s report and will publish a full response in due course. 

“The UK is well prepared to respond to cyber threats and has taken robust action to improve our cyber defences, investing £2.6bn under our Cyber Security Strategy and rolling out the first ever Government-backed minimum standards for cyber security through the NCSC’s Cyber Essentials scheme. 

“We have also, this year, sanctioned 18 criminals responsible for spreading a prolific ransomware strain, taken down a piece of malware that infected 700,000 computers and led on an unprecedented international statement denouncing ransom payments, signed by 46 nations.”


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