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GCHQ tackling anti-vaccine disinformation linked to Russia – report

Martyn Landi, PA Technology Correspondent
·2-min read

GCHQ has launched a cyber operation to disrupt disinformation around vaccines being spread by hostile states, it has been reported.

False information about vaccines has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, with Russia identified as one of the main spreaders of such content.

According to the Times, the UK spy agency is now using tools developed to stop material created by Islamic State from spreading against anti-vaccine propaganda.

GCHQ declined to comment on any of its operational matters.

Alexei Navalny poisoning
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described the campaign as a ‘shabby piece of disinformation’ (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Russia has been linked to a number of malicious online activities associated with coronavirus, believed to be part of efforts to undermine the West while boosting Russian interests.

In July, the UK, along with the US and Canada, accused Russian intelligence of targeting universities and researchers in an attempt to steal vaccine research, with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) stepping in to offer more protection to those institutions involved.

Last month, Russia was also accused of leading a misinformation campaign which looked to undermine trust in a British coronavirus vaccine by spreading crude images, memes and video clips online in an attempt to discredit its development.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described the campaign as a “shabby piece of disinformation” and “utterly deplorable”.

The latest reports of disinformation came as Russia launched a state-backed social media campaign to promote its own vaccine around the world.

Earlier this month, the NCSC also revealed it had protected the UK from more than 700 cyber attacks over the last 12 months, more than a quarter of which were linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government, cybersecurity experts and online safety campaigners have repeatedly warned of the threat of disinformation and other misleading content, particularly during the pandemic.

Internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have taken steps to direct users to official sources in relation to Covid-19, but have also been criticised for their role in allowing content to spread.