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Putin is plotting ‘physical attacks’ on the West, says GCHQ chief

British intelligence ‘increasingly concerned’ over growing links between Russia and cyber hacks

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is preparing “physical attacks” against the West, the head of GCHQ has warned, as British and American intelligence officials laid bare the dual threat posed by Moscow and Beijing.

Anne Keast-Butler, who was appointed to lead Britain’s signals intelligence operations last May, used her first major speech to highlight the immediate threat posed by the Kremlin and the “epoch-defining” risk posed by China to the UK and its allies.

The GCHQ director told a gathering of cyber security experts in Birmingham that her agency believed Moscow was looking to go further than attacks simply in cyberspace.

The signals agency is “increasingly concerned about growing links between the Russian intelligence services and proxy groups to conduct cyber-attacks – as well as suspected physical surveillance and sabotage operations”.

Ms Keast-Butler, who is the first woman to hold the post in the agency’s 105-year history, said Moscow was “nurturing and inspiring” groups of cyber attackers, and “in some cases seemingly co-ordinating physical attacks against the West”.

Last week, a British man was charged with an arson attack in London and accused by prosecutors of working for Wagner Group, the Russian paramilitary organisation.

Speaking at the CyberUK conference, Ms Keast-Butler said “Putin has not given up on his maximalist goal of subjugating the population of Ukraine”.

She added that UK support for Kyiv remained “steadfast”, with British spies continuing to bolster the country’s cyber defences.

Russia has long been accused of protecting cyber gangs that target Western organisations, allowing them to operate with relative impunity as they carry out sophisticated hacks.

Last week, the National Crime Agency named Dmitry Khoroshev, a Russian national, as the person behind LockBit – a ransomware group that had stolen hundreds of millions of pounds from businesses.

Royal Mail fell victim to a LockBit attack last year, after the Russia-based gang paralysed the postal service’s ability to send letters and parcels abroad.

Prior to that, LockBit also targeted London-listed car dealership Pendragon, scrambling computers across its 200 sites and demanding a £60m ransom to unlock them.

Directing physical attacks in the West would represent an escalation of Moscow’s hostility towards the West.

Despite the growing threat from Russia, Ms Keast-Butler said China was taking up “more resource… than any other single mission” at GCHQ.

Ms Keast-Butler said China posed the greatest threat to Britain, representing a “genuine and increasing cyber risk to the UK”.

While she said the UK was open to engaging with China on areas that are “mutually beneficial”, such as climate change or artificial intelligence safety, Ms Keast-Butler added that the “PRC [People’s Republic of China] poses a significant risk to international norms and values”.

She said China was seeking to shape global technology standards “in its own favour” and wanted to “assert its dominance within the next 10 to 15 years”.

The warning over China comes days after it emerged a Ministry of Defence contractor was hacked in an attack blamed on Beijing. Payroll data on 270,000 current and former military personnel was compromised in the breach.

The US government has also accused China of extensive efforts to infiltrate its critical infrastructure via a hacking group dubbed Volt Typhoon.

American officials believe the group has sought to penetrate water facilities, the power grid and transportation systems, lying dormant with tools that can be unleashed in the event of a conflict.

Harry Coker, the White House’s national cyber director, who also appeared at CyberUK, warned China could use its “pre-positioned” hacking resources to “wreak havoc on civilian critical infrastructure to deter US mobility” in the event of a conflict.

Felicity Oswald, the chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, GCHQ’s cyber arm, said: “This is a clear warning about China’s intent to hold essential networks at risk. And it is a warning that providers of essential services in the UK cannot afford to ignore.”

Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, summoned China’s ambassador to the UK to a meeting after three people were charged on Monday with spying for Hong Kong.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the Government was “unequivocal in setting out that the recent pattern of behaviour directed by China against the UK, including cyber-attacks, reports of espionage links and the issuing of bounties, is not acceptable”.

Source: Tele Graph



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