Britain has adopted a cyber-offensive strategy to combat potential Russian intervention over the last few years, according to former cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill.
A series of covert attacks have supposedly already been carried out on Russian leadership and potential allies to exploit cybersecurity weaknesses.
The operation was in response to Moscow’s past moves within the UK, and to “impose a price greater than one they might have expected” said Sedwill.
Commenting, the ex-Whitehall mandarin told Times Radio: “Russia is operating in what the aficionados call grey space, that gap between normal state relations and armed conflict, with cyber-attacks, information warfare and disruption campaigns.
“It is important that we are capable of manoeuvring in the grey space and doing so effectively. We cannot leave the initiative to our adversaries.
“There are vulnerabilities that we can exploit too. We just don’t always talk about them.”
Covert UK cyber-offensive teams have already acted in response to Russian attacks such as the 2018 Salisbury Novichok nerve agent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
He continued: “We seek to impose a price greater than one they might have expected when we believe it is right and necessary.
“It does breakthrough from time to time. After the Salisbury attack, the first use of chemical weapons against a country in Europe in a century, we retaliated in visible ways. We expelled the entire Russian intelligence network in the UK.
“But we also took a series of other discreet measures, including measures tackling some of the illicit money that flows out of Russia, and covert measures, which obviously I can’t talk about as well.”
Announcement of actions by Westminster is welcome, as the Conservative government has in the past been accused of ignoring interference by the Kremlin and failing to investigate such claims.
In July, the parliament’s intelligence and security committee released a damning report revealing that the UK Government had failed to protect Britain by not investigating Russia’s past interference.
- Leader Insights | Social strategies with Twitter’s David Wilding
- Avoiding a claims tsunami: Debunking commercial contract myths
- A fake Microsoft Teams email campaign is targeting staff
The report said that Westminster “had not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes” and that there was “no serious effort to do so”.
It also questioned whether Russia had some hand in the result of the independence referendum in Scotland in 2014, revealing attempts by the Kremlin to steer the direction of the result.
Reported cyber-attacks by Moscow are nothing new. Russian hackers have spent years using cybersecurity tools to disrupt and steal information in the West.
In mid-July hackers supported by the Russian state were caught attempting to steal important Covid-19 vaccine information, according to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).
Both the NCSC and Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) said it is “almost certain” that the group operates as part of the Russian intelligence services.