Large-scale enterprises and critical infrastructure organisations in the UK will need to be on their toes to secure their digital assets in the days ahead as cyber security experts at the GCHQ have warned that Russia could launch a major cyber-attack on the UK’s infrastructure soon.
Russia itching to avenge ‘Novichok’ insult
The cyber-attack could be in response to the recent standoff between the UK and Russia after investigators discovered that Russia used Novichok, a class of nerve agent, on UK soil to murder defectors Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal. Both of them survived the assasination attempts.
In March, Prime Minister Theresa May termed the use of Novichok as “an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom” that put the lives of innocent civilians at risk.
“Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so, Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal,” she said.
To demonstrate her intent, May also announced then that the government summoned the Russian ambassador to the Foreign Office to explain the use of a Soviet nerve agent on UK soil and also expelled 23 Russian diplomats who were identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”.
Tensions between the UK & Russia could escalate quickly
Even though the tensions between the UK and Russia were at an all-time high at that time, security experts at the GCHQ told The Daily Mirror that the nerve agent attack on the Skripals could be just the beginning.
An anonymous source told the publication that while they are expecting a major cyber-attack on UK infrastructure sponsored by Russia, both GCHQ, and the British military have the tools in place to launch a massive retaliatory cyber-attack against Russia but that could escalate the tensions between the two countries even further.
“With tensions and aggression between the UK and Russia running so high at the moment Putin wants to capitalise on recent successes. Everyone is pointing the finger at Moscow for the Novichok incident but Putin will believe there is almost nothing the UK can do about it except name the spies behind it,” said a source to the Daily Mirror.
“That will not matter to them or Putin. But they will want to step up the pressure on the UK, cost us a great deal of money and cause as much disruption as possible. Energy and finance are the biggest targets as it could hit us hard and our security systems guarding against cyber attacks are pretty vulnerable.
“A glitch in our energy supplies could result in catastrophic failures in our cities, affecting security and the economy – the same goes for hitting the Bank of England,” the source added.
This isn’t the first time that cyber security and defence experts have raised alarm bells to warn enterprises and citizens about possible cyber attacks launch by Russia to achieve political ends. In January, defence secretary Gavin Williamson warned that Russia could launch attacks on energy lines & infrastructure firms critical to the UK’s survival, and that such an attack could cause ‘total chaos’ in the country.
“The plan for the Russians won’t be for landing craft to appear in the South Bay in Scarborough, and off Brighton beach. They are going to be thinking, ‘how can we just cause so much pain to Britain?
“Damage its economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths, but actually have an element of creating total chaos within the country,’ Williamson said to The Daily Telegraph.
In November last year, Ciaran Martin, chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, said that the Russian government was regularly targeting the UK’s energy, media and telecommunication industries to vitiate the international order.
Speaking at an event organised by The Times, Martin said that continuous cyber-attacks sponsored by Russia were eroding the international order. ‘The prime minister made the point on Monday night – international order as we know it is in danger of being eroded. This is clearly a cause for concern and the NCSC is actively engaging with international partners, industry and civil society to tackle this threat,’ he said.