World News: How 40% of Britain’s key infrastructure from the NHS to power supplies are ‘highly vulnerable’ to Russian cyber attacks

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RUSSIA is “highly likely” to target Britain’s hospitals and air traffic in crippling cyber attacks to avenge the US-led airstrikes in Syria, experts claim.

Spy organisation GCHQ says it has been on “high alert” for quite some time and Britain is ready to strike back should the Kremlin decide to wage digital warfare.

Russia could try and cripple Britain’s infrastructure in retaliation to the airstrikes on Syria, experts have warned

And worryingly, around two-fifths of critical infrastructure services – including police, energy suppliers and NHS trusts – may be highly vulnerable to such an offensive.

As of August, up to 39 per cent of firms had yet to complete basic, government-mandated cyber security checks, according to a Freedom of Information request filed by security firm Corero.

Of the 338 organisations asked, 163 responded to say they had not finished the “10 Steps to Cyber Security” programme, punishable by a £17million fine.

The groups asked included fire and rescue services, police forces, ambulance trusts, energy suppliers, transport organisations and NHS trusts, 42 per cent of which are allegedly under-prepared.

Experts believe Russia could try to launch a cyber attack on the UK for its part in the missile attack on Syria

Not completing the checklist suggests “a lack of cyber resilience within organisations which are critical to the functioning of UK society”, Corero claims.

Its report added: “These findings suggest that many such organisations are not as cyber resilient as they should be, in the face of growing and sophisticated cyber threats.”

Corero claims these firms  could be “leaving their doors wide-open for malware or ransomware attacks, data theft or more serious cyber attacks”.

The checklist is meant to prepare them for “short-term or low-volume” attacks which are harder to detect because they are quick and at a low bandwidth.

Experts warn Russian hackers could try and knock out critical infrastructure including NHS trusts

Coming into force on May 10, it also includes and “easy-to-use system” for reporting breaches and other IT issues.

A PWC report found almost one in five (17 per cent) of firms admitted to not being prepared for an attack while 28 per cent didn’t know how many incidents they suffered in 2017.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd claimed that Britain had been hit 49 times by Russian cyber attacks in the last six months alone.

And this month alone, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) reported data breaches affecting 150million MyFitnessPal users and another 1,000 Great Western Rail accounts.

And Russia’s cyber capabilities are “highly advanced”, according to a comprehensive report by research firm CNA.

It cited former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who said Russia is getting much bolder in targeting critical infrastructure and engaging in espionage, even when it has been caught.

Hackers could even use cyber warfare to smear British politicians

The first known instance of Russia using cyber warfare was in Estonia in 2007, when it crippled the internet for 1.3million regular users.

The central European nation, which prides itself on being “paperless”, claimed Russia targeted them in retaliation over the removal of a statue commemorating Soviet soldiers in the city of Tallinn.

In 2013, Russia was accused of conducting cyber attacks to knock out Ukrainian infrastructure services including the government, telecoms, and the military.

Hackers obtained and leaked government documents, and even sent SMS messages to Ukrainian
troops urging them to defect, CNA reported.

Even Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said Moscow had a track record of launching such attacks, as well as meddling in elections.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Johnson said the UK must take “every possible precaution” to protect itself from cyber attack.

Russia and Syria have allegedly blocked chemical inspectors from probing the site of the chemical gas attack in Douma, pictured, blamed on the country’s regime

His comments came just days after the UK, France and US launched 105 missiles at three Syrian targets in response to a chemical gas attack in Douma which has been blamed on the Syrian regime.

He said British intelligence officers are concerned Syria’s ally Russia could respond in kind with a “dirty war” using cyber attacks – and even look to smear politicians.

Johnson added: “When you look at what Russia has done… in Salisbury, attacks on TV stations, on the democratic processes, on critical national infrastructure… we have to be very, very cautious indeed.”

And Whitehall sources said there has been a 20-fold increase in Kremlin-linked social media “bot” accounts spreading “disinformation” since the joint airstrikes.

NCSC director Ciaran Martin recently announced the threat of an attack has been raised to its highest level.

He added: “Cyber attack capabilities are an integral part of Russia’s national policy, of its way of asserting itself in the world.”

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