Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre publicly confirmed for the first time that Russia has carried out internet assaults on major U.K. energy, technology and media companies, as tensions escalate over the Kremlin’s interference in Western democracies.
NCSC Chief Executive Officer Ciaran Martin said his organization, which is part of GCHQ, the U.K.’s communications interception agency, has dealt with more than 600 cyber attacks since it was created last year.
Of those, 35 were designated “significant incidents,” in which the threat to Britain was deemed severe enough for government ministers and spy agencies’ full resources to be used.
“I can’t get into precise details of intelligence matters, but I can confirm that Russian interference seen by the National Cyber Security Centre over the past year has included attacks on the U.K. media, telecommunications and energy sectors,” Martin said in a speech in London Wednesday. “Russia is seeking to undermine the international system. That much is clear.”
Prime Minister Theresa May warned Monday the Kremlin is behind “a sustained campaign” of cyber espionage and disruption. “We know what you are doing,” May said in a speech, addressing Russian President Vladimir Putin and insisting he would not succeed.
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Tuesday May’s comments were “irresponsible and groundless” and argued she was trying to distract attention from internal government splits over Brexit.
At the start of November, Britain’s Electoral Commission announced an investigation into Arron Banks, a millionaire insurance entrepreneur who funded campaigns in the 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union. The move followed calls by lawmakers for a probe into whether “dark money” played a role in the vote.
Foreign governments such as Russia and China may have been responsible for a crash in the voter registration website in the weeks before the referendum, according to a parliamentary committee.
The Times of London newspaper said Wednesday Russian Twitter accounts posted almost 45,000 messages about Brexit in 48 hours during the referendum campaign in an apparently coordinated attempt to affect the outcome of the vote, citing research for an upcoming paper by data scientists at Swansea University in Wales and the University of California, Berkeley.
–With assistance from Gregory L. White and Henry Meyer