UK accuses Russia of attempted election interference through cyberattacks

Moscow rejects UK claims about a campaign of malicious cyber-activity against British politicians, journalists and civil society.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron says Russia's FSB was behind 'unsuccessful attempts to interfere in UK political processes' [File: Vickie Flores/EPA]

The UK government has accused Russian security services of engaging in a sustained cyber-espionage campaign with the aim of meddling in the country’s next general election, a claim Moscow has denied.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron on Thursday said Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) was behind “unsuccessful attempts to interfere in UK political processes” and that Russia’s ambassador to London had been summoned.

Two Russian operatives were sanctioned for their involvement in the preparation of so-called spear-phishing campaigns and “activity intended to undermine the UK”.

“In sanctioning those responsible and summoning the Russian ambassador today, we are exposing their malign attempts at influence and shining a light on yet another example of how Russia chooses to operate on the global stage,” Cameron said.

He added that Russia’s attacks were “completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes”. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to call a general election next year.

The Foreign Office said Centre 18, a unit within the FSB, was accountable for targeting parliamentarians from several political parties, with some attacks resulting in documents being leaked in an operation from at least 2015 through to 2023.

The organisation had also hacked UK-US trade documents that were leaked ahead of the UK general election in December 2019, it added.

Russia’s embassy in London said Moscow had no reason to trust British claims about cyberattacks in the absence of concrete evidence, Russian news agencies reported.

Foreign Office minister Leo Docherty told MPs in the House of Commons that the cyber-threat posed by Russian intelligence services was “real and serious”.

“I want to underline to the whole House that this targeting can be extremely convincing,” he said.

Docherty explained that the attackers create false accounts on social media and networking platforms, impersonate contacts and create a believable approach seeking to build a rapport before delivering a malicious.

Opposition Labour MP David Lammy said the Russian operation was an attack on British democracy, raising concerns about the potential ramifications for elections next year in the UK, United States and India.

“Trust must be built on the confidence that politicians on all sides are able to conduct the business of democracy free from interference,” Lammy told MPs.

“Labour along with the whole House condemns it in the strongest terms.”

Russia has been suspected of meddling in UK politics before, including the divisive 2016 Brexit referendum, but the Conservative government has been criticised for failing to investigate.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies