Britain’s defence minister on Thursday condemned Russia as a “pariah state” after London accused Kremlin spies of mounting a campaign of cyber attacks on civilian bodies around the world. Cyber experts from the UK have identified operatives from Russia’s GRU military intelligence as being behind a string of high-profile incidents, including an attempted hack on the World Anti-Doping Agency in Switzerland last year.
As he arrived for talks in Brussels with his NATO counterparts, Gavin Williamson said Moscow’s “reckless and indiscriminate” attacks had left it isolated in the international community. “This is not the actions of a great power, this is the actions of a pariah state and we’ll continue working with allies to isolate, make them understand they cannot continue to conduct themselves in such a way,” Williamson told reporters.
Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has “high confidence” that the GRU was “almost certainly” responsible for a number of attacks, including the infamous targeting of the US Democratic Party ahead of the 2016 presidential election, according to sources in London. NATO is stepping up efforts to strengthen its resources to counter electronic warfare, with the US set to announce it is making offensive cyber capabilities available to the alliance.
Asked three times whether Britain would consider hitting back at Russia with cyber attacks of its own, Williamson said that being named and shamed was a deterrent in itself. “We’re going to make it clear where Russia acts that we are going to be exposing that action and we believe that by doing so this will act as a disincentive to act in such a way in the future,” he said.
Ties between Britain and Russia are at rock bottom after a nerve agent attack targeting former Kremlin agent Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury. London has blamed Moscow for the attack, which left one person dead, and last month the British-based investigative group Bellingcat identified one of the suspects as a highly decorated GRU colonel.