Denouncing Russia’s constant endeavour to “undermine the international rules-based order”, Jeremy Fleming, the director of GCHQ, has said that Britain is ready to use its offensive cyber capabilities to target GRU, the Russian intelligence agency said to be behind the Novichok poisoning incident.
Speaking at the Billington Cybersecurity Conference in Washington, Fleming started out by stating that nations need to work differently to stay ahead of the new changes in the cyber field to make technology automatically safer to use.
Lauding the 77-year partnership between GCHQ and the NSA, he said that the coordination between the two agencies is one of the jewels in the crown of the special relationship between Britain and the United States, and that the partnership is as relevant now in the cyber age as it was during the Cold War and during the days that saw the rise of Islamic terrorism.
“Earlier this year, the NCSC, GCHQ, the FBI, and the DHS published a technical advise that not only exposed malicious Russian activity against routers, it gave companies the tools to get rid of it. We are also working with UK and U.S. manufacturers and retailers to embed security in the design process of the Internet of Things, and none of this is easy.
“As societies change, as technologies we rely upon becoming more pervasive, and as our adversaries turn them against us, we need to keep reinventing these partnerships.
Use of offensive cyber tools to dissuade Russia an option
“Tackling information and disinformation flows is now a core part of our counter-terrorism efforts and of course we are seeing it become much more prominent in our fight against hostile states too. States have developed toolkits that deliver deliberate acts of aggression or interference, to steal intellectual property, or to spread disinformation. Much of this is happening online,” Fleming said.
“Sometimes states do the dirty work themselves, sometimes they use proxies. But everytime they act, they chew away at our values, our prosperity, our way of life. In the UK, that way of life was rocked earlier this year with the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury and the subsequent tragic poisonings in Amesbury.
“It’s worth remembering that this is the first time we’re seeing a nerve agent used in Europe since World War 2. That’s really sobering. It demonstrates just how reckless the Russian state is prepared to be. But as the Prime Minister said yesterday, we will not tolerate such barbaric acts against our country.
“Since March, the police, with the support of the intelligence community, have led a painstaking and highly complicated investigation into what happened in Wiltshire. We’ve ascertained who exactly was responsible and the methods they used. And as you’d expect, teams from across GCHQ worked tirelessly with partners at home and abroad to ensure that our world-class intelligence was informed about the incident and yesterday, I was pleased to see two GRU operatives were named and arrest warrants issued.
“The threat from Russia is real and it’s active and it will be countered by a strong international partnership of allies able to deploy the full range of tools from across our national security apparatus and ready to reject the Kremlin’s brazen determination to undermine the international rules-based order,” he added.
This coming from the chief of the UK’s premier intelligence agency is testament to the fact that Britain isn’t willing to allow Russia or its intelligence agencies to get away with the Salisbury incident which Prime Minister Theresa May later termed as “an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom” and “an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom”.
“This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil,” she said in Parliament in March.