FOLLOWING airstrikes on suspected chemical sites in Syria, Britain is bracing itself for a response from dictator Assad’s major ally Russia.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has warned the UK needs to be prepared for a Kremlin-directed cyber attack.
Will Britain be hit by a cyber attack?
TheÂ Foreign Secretary said UK intelligence agencies were taking âevery possible precautionâ to protect against online warfare.
There are fears an attack would cripple the UK – striking hospitals, transport,Â water or energy supplies, banks and even air traffic control.
Britain’s spying agencies have been put on standby to hit back against the Kremlin if they launch a retaliatory attack forÂ Britainâs role in the 105-missile blitz on the Russia-backed Syrian regime on Saturday.
It came as intelligence insiders even warned that Russiaâs revenge could come in the form of “kompromat” â the release of embarrassing information on leading UK politicians and celebrities.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr show yesterday, Mr Johnson warned: “You have to take every possible precaution, and when you look at what Russia has done, not just in this country, in Salisbury, attacks on TV stations, on the democratic processes, on critical national infrastructure â of course we have to be very, very cautious indeed.”
Whitehall sources said there has been a 20-fold increase in Kremlin-linked social media “bot” accounts spreading “disinformation” since the joint airstrikes.
The FBI, Homeland Security and GCHQ hace discovered that 40% of the UK’s key infrastructure is highly vulnerable to attack.
What would happen if Russia launched a cyber assault?
Experts believe hackers in Moscow are already trying to gain access to key computer networks that control British infrastructure.
Transport links, water supplies, hospitals, energy supplies or banking could be targeted in an attempt to bring the country to a grinding halt.
Russian hackers could also be backed up by trolls feeding disinformation â or so-called “fake news” â in an attempt to discredit British authorities.
And security chiefs fear Kremlin-based hackers could release embarrassing information on ministers and MPs.
One source told the Times:Â âWe know whatâs in the Russian playbook, kompromat type material, weâre all prepared for that.
“Weâre not saying that thereâs a picture of âXâ thatâs waiting to come out but itâll be amazing to us if they donât have some of that kind of material.”
On April 11, 2018, Home Secretary Amber Rudd claimed that Britain had been hit 49 times by Russian cyber attacks in the last six months alone.
She said attempts to hack into our businesses and infrastructure was “a matter of when, not if”.
She said: “Over the past six months, the NCSC has responded to 49 incidents associated with Russian cyber groups, some of which have hundreds of potential victims.â
How would Britain respond to a cyber attack?
Foreign state hackers could face a declaration of war from Britain if they are found to have targeted us, the former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon warned in June, 2017.
Fallon, who resigned from his role as Defence Secretary in November 2017, following allegations of inappropriate behaviour, said the price of a crippling cyber attack on Britain could come âfrom any domain – air, land, sea or cyber.â
In a major speech he blasted âaggressor states like Russia, working overtime to disrupt and discolour our democracyâ who launch around 60 attacks on Britainâs government IT, infrastructure and businesses every month.
Speaking to the respected Chatham House think-tank, the then-Defence Secretary said: âWe now have the skills to expose cyber criminals, to hunt them down and to prosecute them.â
Sir Michael added that a cyber attack could fall foul of NATOâs Article V covering mutual defence, which states that an attack on one member state is an attack on all.
He said the âresponse in each case may need to be differentiatedâ but âclearly has to be a point at which they cross a certain threshold, endangering the state itself, the daily existence of its peopleâ.
He added: âThat is why we have pressed for NATO to be clear that a cyber-attack can be just as threatening as any other kind of physical attack when you are getting into the territory of Article V.â
Sir Michael also revealed that the UK is âbuilding up a new 21st Century Cyber Corps, a band of expert volunteers, leaders in industry, who are going advise us on how to keep ahead in the cyber space raceâ.
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