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Britain's cybersecurity chief: Russia tried to hack UK media, telecoms, and energy

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A man dressed up in a mask and holding a sign with Vladimir Putin on it saying 'Peacemaker' takes part in anti-Brexit and anti-austerity protests as the Conservative party annual conference gets underway at Manchester Central on October 1, 2017 in Manchester, England. Five-hundred thousand people are expected to take part in the protests with police mounting an unprecedented security operation of a thousand officers and extra armed police to protect Conservative party conference delegates. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images) A man dressed up in a mask and holding a sign with Vladimir Putin on it saying ‘Peacemaker’ takes part in anti-Brexit and anti-austerity protests as the Conservative party annual conference gets underway at Manchester Central on October 1, 2017. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

  • The head of the National Cyber Security Centre confirms “Russian interference” in UK media, telecommunication and energy sectors over the last year.
  • “Russia is seeking to undermine the international system. That much is clear.”
  • Comments come amid scrutiny of Russia’s influence in last year’s Brexit vote.

LONDON — The head of one of Britain’s leading government cybersecurity agencies has confirmed that Russia tried to hack the UK media, telecommunications system, and energy sector in the past year.

Ciaran Martin, the CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), will say at the Times Tech Summit on Wednesday: “I can’t get into precise details of intelligence matters, but I can confirm that Russian interference, seen by the National Cyber Security Centre over the past the year, has included attacks on the UK media, telecommunication and energy sectors.”

Martin’s comments appear to confirm earlier reports of attempts by Russian hackers to disrupt critical UK infrastructure on the day of the snap election in June.

The comments also come at a time of heightened scrutiny of Russia’s role in last year’s Brexit referendum. Data scientists at the University of Swansea and University of California, Berkeley found that over 150,000 accounts based in Russia posted content relating to Brexit in the days leading up to voting day on June 23, 2016.

Prime Minister Theresa May used a speech on Monday to accuse Russia of using fake news to “sow discord” in the west and “meddle” in democratic processes.

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“I have a very simple message for Russia,” May said. “We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.”

Martin will say at the Times Tech Summit on Wednesday: “The Prime Minister sent Russia a clear message in her speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet on Monday night.

“Russia is seeking to undermine the international system. That much is clear. The PM made the point on Monday night — international order as we know it is in danger of being eroded.”

Martin will say that the NCSC is “actively engaging with international partners, industry and civil society to tackle this threat.” The organisation last month hosted a conference to address concerns about potential Russian interference in electoral and democratic processes. It was attended by two-thirds of EU nation states.

The NCSC was set up last year as a subdivision of GCHQ. NCSC’s role is to provide help and support to the public and private sectors when it comes to cybersecurity. The organisation blocks tens of millions of cyber attacks in the UK each week and has responded to over 500 successful attacks in the last year, including leading the UK response to the WannaCry cyber attack.

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