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Britain accuses Russian spies over the SolarWinds cyber attack

Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor
·3-min read

Britain has accused Russia’s foreign intelligence service of being behind a major cyber attack on the west.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had assessed that it was “highly likely” the SVR was responsible for the so-called SolarWinds hack.

The move came as US President Joe Biden announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats in response to the Kremlin’s interference in last year’s presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.

In a statement, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain and the US were determined to stand against Russia’s “malign behaviour”.

“We see what Russia is doing to undermine our democracies,” he said.

“The UK and the US are calling out Russia’s malicious behaviour, to enable our international partners and businesses at home to better defend and prepare themselves against this kind of action.

“The UK will continue to work with allies to call out Russia’s malign behaviour where we see it.”

The SolarWinds hack last year is thought to have been among the worst cyber espionage incidents to have been suffered by the US, affecting large swathes of the federal government over a period of months.

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At least 200 organisations around the world are reported to have been affected by the attack, including Nato and the European Parliament.

The FCDO said that since the hack was uncovered, the NCSC – part of GCHQ – had been working to “understand and mitigate” its effect on the UK.

While the overall impact was said to be “low”, the NCSC had identified a “low single-digit number” of public sector organisations that had been targeted.

The FCDO said the Government had been working hard to ensure those affected were rapidly mitigated.

It said the attacks had been carried out by a group of hackers known as Cozy Bear or The Dukes and represented a “pattern of behaviour” by the SVR going back at least a decade.

In addition to the expulsion of the diplomats, the US administration said it was imposing sanctions on on six Russian companies that supported Moscow’s cyber activities and 32 individuals and entities accused of attempting to interfere in last year’s presidential election.

A further eight people and entities linked to Russia’s occupation of Crimea also face sanctions.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “These actions are intended to hold Russia to account for its reckless actions. We will act firmly in response to Russian actions that cause harm to us or our allies and partners.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that America’s “aggressive behaviour” would “undoubtedly trigger a resolute retaliation”.

“Washington should realise that it will have to pay a price for the degradation of the bilateral ties,” she said. “The responsibility for that will fully lie with the United States.”

She said the foreign ministry had summoned the US ambassador for a “hard conversation”, but gave no further details of what what action Russia would take.