GCHQ Warns Over Russia Threat to UK Elections

UK spy agency GCHQ has warned MPs that Russian hackers could threaten electoral processes and urged MPs to take necessary action to protect the UK’s democracy.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, officials at GCHQ have demanded a meeting with politicians “after warning them that they are at risk of Russian cyber-attacks disrupting the next general election.” Strengthening the UK’s defenses against hackers should be considered a top priority, the report said.

The fear is that foreign hackers could target private internal communications and information, which could then be leaked publicly. This echoes events in the US in the run up to the 2016 presidential election, where Russia was accused of hacking into the Democratic National Committee in order to influence the election in favor of eventual winner Donald Trump.

Ciaran Martin, chief executive of GCHQ's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), said in a letter to politicians: “You will be aware of the coverage of events in the United States, Germany and elsewhere reminding us of the potential for hostile action against the UK political system.

“This is not just about the network security of political parties' own systems. Attacks against our democratic processes go beyond this and can include attacks on parliament, constituency offices, think tanks and pressure groups and individuals' email accounts.”

UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson said that while there was no evidence Russia has carried out cyber-attacks against UK political targets they do have the capability.

Speaking to TV show Peston on Sunday, he said: “We have no evidence the Russians are actually involved in trying to undermine our democratic processes at the moment. We don’t actually have that evidence. But what we do have is plenty of evidence that the Russians are capable of doing that.

“There is no doubt that they have been up to all sorts of dirty tricks – bringing down French TV stations; you have seen what happened in the United States where there is no question at all they were involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Convention. You have seen what happened in Montenegro, where there was an attempted coup in a European state and possibly even an attempted assassination of the leader of that state.”

Ciaran Martin, boss of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, has previously stated that the UK electoral process was under threat from hackers. He also stated in February 2017 that the UK had been hit by 188 major cyber-attacks in the previous three months, which were designed to “extract information on UK government policy on anything from energy to diplomacy to information on a particular sector,” he said.

Despite denials from Russia and Donald Trump, various US intelligence agencies have concluded that the Kremlin interfered in last November's US election with the aim of getting Donald Trump elected.

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