Russian spies hack high-profile politicians and former spy chief in ‘grey warfare’ campaign

Russian spies hack high-profile politicians and former spy chief in ‘grey warfare’ campaign
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

British politicians and civil servants have been hacked by a group “almost certainly” linked to Russia’s security service (FSB), a UK foreign minister has said.

Leo Docherty issued a statement saying that they had discovered a cyber influence campaign carried out by a group known as Star Blizzard, who are suspected of being a subordinate of an FSB cyber unit.

The group had “selectively leaked and amplified information” since 2015, conducting an exercise known as spear-phishing to steal information from a “significant” number of parliamentarians from multiple political parties.

Mr Docherty said the Russian ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office to be told “these actions have consequences”.

It is understood the ambassador was unavailable when summoned and officials instead met with a senior member of the Russian government to express concerns over the attempts to interfere in the democratic process.

Richard Dearlove revealed he had been targeted by Russian hackers (Reuters)
Richard Dearlove revealed he had been targeted by Russian hackers (Reuters)

MPs were told sanctions would be imposed on two members of Star Blizzard, named by the Foreign Office as Andrey Stanislavovich Korinets, AKA Alexey Doguzhiev, and FSB intelligence officer Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko.

The FSB is the successor to the KGB, a Soviet Union-era security service that Vladimir Putin worked for before moving into politics in the 1990s.

Since 2008, the FSB has been run by Alexander Bortnikov, who has known Putin since the 1970s, when both served in the Leningrad branch of the KGB.

The former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove, has revealed that he was among those targeted by Star Blizzard.

In a statement, he said Russia would “do anything to undermine critical infrastructure, national security, and attack any of our institutions that are not pro-Russian”.

“I have been through many more dramatic and worse things than being hacked. I was not particularly concerned about it. It is spot on from the government to stand up to it. We are in a state of grey warfare with the Russians, short of open aggression and conflict.”

Leo Docherty, a junior foreign office minister, announced the attempted Russian hacking (AFP/Getty)
Leo Docherty, a junior foreign office minister, announced the attempted Russian hacking (AFP/Getty)

Speaking about Russian “attempted cyber interference” and “malicious cyber activity”, Mr Docherty told MPs: “I can confirm today that [the FSB] is behind a sustained effort to interfere in our democratic processes.

“They have targeted members of this House and the [House of Lords]. They have been targeting civil servants, journalists and NGOs.

“They have been targeting high-profile individuals and entities with a clear intent – using information they obtain to meddle in British politics.”

The minister continued: “We want to be as open as we can be with the House and the British public. Our commitment to transparency stands in sharp contrast to the efforts of the KGB successors to exert influence from the shadows.

“Centre 18, a unit within Russia’s FSB, has been involved in a range of cyber espionage operations targeting the United Kingdom.

“Secondly, that Star Blizzard, a cyber group the National Cyber Security Centre assesses is almost certainly subordinate to Centre 18, is responsible for a range of malign activities targeting British parliamentarians from multiple parties.

“Thirdly, using these means the group have selectively leaked and amplified the release of sensitive information in service of Russia’s goals of confrontation.”

David Cameron described the attack as ‘completely unacceptable’ (PA)
David Cameron described the attack as ‘completely unacceptable’ (PA)

Following Mr Docherty’s statement in the Commons, the foreign secretary Lord David Cameron said: “Russia‘s attempts to interfere in UK politics are completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes. Despite their repeated efforts, they have failed.

“In sanctioning those responsible and summoning the Russian ambassador today, we are exposing their malign attempts at influence and shining a light on yet another example of how Russia chooses to operate on the global stage.

“We will continue to work together with our allies to expose Russian covert cyber activity and hold Russia to account for its actions.”