The UK government has publicly denounced Russia for being behind the NotPetya cyber attack that took place last year and disrupted operations at several UK firms.
According to the Foreign Office, the decision to publicly denounce Russia for launching the NotPetya cyber attack was taken as the UK and its allies ‘will not tolerate malicious cyber activity’.
Even though individual ministers have earlier gone on record to attribute major cyber attacks and other events to Russia, this is the first time that the Foreign Office has gone on record to criticize Russia publicly for being behind the NotPetya cyber-attack.
In a detailed statement published by the department, Foreign Office Minister Lord Ahmad said that the NotPetya cyber attack was masqueraded as a criminal enterprise but its purpose was principally to disrupt businesses in Ukraine and Europe.
‘The UK Government judges that the Russian Government, specifically the Russian military, was responsible for the destructive NotPetya cyber-attack of June 2017. The attack showed a continued disregard for Ukrainian sovereignty. Its reckless release disrupted organisations across Europe costing hundreds of millions of pounds,’ he said.
‘The Kremlin has positioned Russia in direct opposition to the West yet it doesn’t have to be that way. We call upon Russia to be the responsible member of the international community it claims to be rather than secretly trying to undermine it.
‘The United Kingdom is identifying, pursuing and responding to malicious cyber activity regardless of where it originates, imposing costs on those who would seek to do us harm. We are committed to strengthening coordinated international efforts to uphold a free, open, peaceful and secure cyberspace,’ he added.
The NotPetya ransomware attack, which took place between June and July last year, was conducted by suspected Russian hackers who hacked into a software that was used by over 80 percent of businesses in Ukraine for tax filing purposes. The software was also used by the country’s banks, media organisations, transport, telecommunications, and energy departments.
The cyber attack also affected operations at global firms like Danish shipping company Maersk, Russian oil giant Rosneft, aircraft manufacturer Antonov, US pharmaceutical giant Merck as well as its subsidiary Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) in the UK.
Following the attacks, Ukraine’s security service SBU launched an in-depth investigation into the NotPetya cyber attack along with the FBI, Europol, the UK’s National Crime Agency and other international agencies.
Ukrainian authorities are still quite confident that the NotPetya cyber attack was sponsored by Russia to destabilise Ukraine and shut down the country’s critical infrastructure along with other institutions like the central bank, cabinet offices, and postal services.
“War in cyberspace, seeding fear and horror among millions of personal computer users, and inflicting direct material damage from destabilizing the work of businesses and the state, is just one part of the hybrid war of the Russian empire against Ukraine,” said Ukrainian member of Parliament Anton Gerashenko.
“A cyber attack with the ultimate goal of an attempt to destabilize the situation in the economy and public consciousness of Ukraine was disguised as an attempt to extort money from computer owners,” he added.
Back in January, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Defence secretary Gavin Williamson said that the real threat faced by the UK came from Russia since the latter was spying on the UK’s energy lines.
‘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 warned.
Russia had immediately responded to and brushed off Williamson’s allegations. Ministry Major-General Igor Konashenkov, who is an official representative of the Russian defence ministry, said that Williamson ‘lost his understanding of where the limits of common sense lie long ago’. He added that Williamson’s words sound like straight out of a children’s comic book or an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.