The UK Government has accused Russia’s Security Service, the FSB, of orchestrating a sustained cyber-hacking campaign targeted at politicians and public figures.
The group – identified as FSB Centre 18 – is alleged to have stolen and disseminated sensitive data through cyber-attacks, including materials related to the 2019 election.
Despite Russia’s persistent denials, Foreign Secretary David Cameron condemned the group’s actions as “completely unacceptable.”
The Russian ambassador was summoned on Wednesday but was unavailable. Instead, officials met with the deputy head of mission at the Russian Embassy to express the UK’s grave concern.
“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,” said Cameron.
The FSB-linked group is accused of conducting highly targeted hacks against politicians, civil servants, journalists, academics, and individuals in public life. Two members of the hacking group were sanctioned, including a serving FSB officer.
The individuals being designated are:
- Ruslan Aleksandrovich PERETYATKO, who is a Russian FSB intelligence officer and a member of Star Blizzard AKA the Callisto Group
- Andrey Stanislavovich KORINETS, AKA Alexey DOGUZHIEV, who is a member of Star Blizzard AKA the Callisto Group
The attacks involved extensive research—creating false accounts to impersonate trusted contacts, and specifically targeting private emails. Notable targets include SNP MP Stewart McDonald who reported stolen emails earlier this year.
Centre 18, linked to the FSB since at least 2015, allegedly remains active in its cyber-espionage efforts. The US is expected to announce counteraction against the group, emphasising concerns about Russia targeting democratic processes globally.
While the cyber campaign has not been deemed successful in interfering with democratic processes, the public accusation aims to disrupt the group’s activities and raise awareness ahead of upcoming major elections worldwide.
Critics argue that Russia’s actions represent a “persistent pattern of behaviour.” Suggestions have been made in the House of Commons to consider mandatory cybersecurity training for MPs and their staff to counter such threats.
The FSB-linked group focuses on intelligence acquisition, hacking email accounts, and stealing data. Some information is allegedly passed on to other entities for public dissemination, undermining Western interests.
As the UK gears up for potential elections next year, officials are issuing advisories to raise awareness about the cybersecurity threat. The US election, scheduled for the following November, is also highlighted as a potential target.
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said: “As I warned earlier this year, state actors, and the ‘Wagner-style’ sub-state hackers they use to do their dirty work, will continue to target our public institutions and our democratic processes.
“We will continue to call this activity out, to raise our defences, and to take action against the perpetrators. “
The UK’s move to expose FSB Centre 18’s activities is part of a coordinated effort with the US, reflecting a meticulous investigation that took months. As the global community braces for future cyber threats, the challenge remains to safeguard democratic processes from sophisticated hacking groups.
Home Secretary James Cleverly said: “An attack against our democratic institutions is an attack on our most fundamental British values and freedoms.
“The UK will not tolerate foreign interference and through the National Security Act, we are making the UK a harder operating environment for those seeking to interfere in our democratic institutions.”
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