GCHQ spies warn that Russian cyber-attacks could undermine democratic process

Russian hackers pose a threat to democracy, according to GCHQ spies who have warned political parties of the risk.

Seminars will be held to educate UK politicians on the threat from the Kremlin after its spies were accused of carrying out cyber-attacks to tamper with US and German elections.

Ciaran Martin, chief executive of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), has written to leaders of all the main political parties to offer advice on how to withstand attacks, according to the Sunday Times.

In the letter, he said: “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.”

In February, Martin warned that 188 high-level cyber-attacks, “many of which threatened national security,” had struck Britain in the previous three months.

Chancellor Philip Hammond, a former defence and foreign secretary, also said the NCSC had been blocking “potential attacks” on Government departments and the public at a rate of around 200 hacks a day.

US intelligence services have accused the Kremlin of breaching Democratic National Committee computers in an attempt to interfere with the presidential election won by Donald Trump.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency warned in December that Russia was trying to influence the upcoming federal elections with “increasingly aggressive cyber espionage”.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told ITV’s 'Peston On Sunday': “We have no evidence that 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.

“And there is no doubt that they have been up to all sorts of dirty tricks - bringing down French TV stations, you have seen what has happened in the United States where there is no question at all that 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.

“Now there is very little doubt that the Russians are behind these things, to say nothing of what they have done in Ukraine.”

Johnson said he feels deeply sad that relations have deteriorated.

His comments follow concerns from former GCHQ deputy director of intelligence Brian Lord last month that Britain is currently vulnerable to “weaponised misinformation” perpetrated by Russia. 

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