Cybersecurity: Are the UK’s politicians sitting ducks for Russian hackers?

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  • With many experts and intelligence insiders, including senior members of the CIA, suggesting that Russian hackers may have in some way influenced last year’s US presidential election, the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has now warned that political leaders across the UK could also be at risk of a Russian cybersecurity attack.

    GCHQ has confirmed it plans to organise a series of seminars designed to educate politicians on cybersecurity best practice. Ciaran Martin, the CEO of the UK’s newly launched National Cyber Security Centre, which is part of GCHQ, explained: “The seminars will build on our existing advice and will provide an overview of threats, case studies on recent cyber-incidents, practical steps to reduce the risk and advice on incident management.”

    In a letter to the leaders of some of the UK’s major political parties, Ciaran Martin explained that the alleged attacks on US and German politicians by Russian hackers serves as a powerful reminder that the UK could face a similar threat: “You will be aware of the coverage of events in the United States, Germany and elsewhere reminding us of the potential for hostile action against the UK political system.

    “This is not just about the network security of political parties’ own systems. Attacks against our democratic processes go beyond this and can include attacks on Parliament, constituency offices, think tanks and pressure groups and individuals' email accounts.”

    The UK Government’s Digital Democracy Commission recently called for voters in the UK to have access to secure online voting within the next three years, but following allegations that hackers influenced the US presidential election a former head of MI6, John Sawers, warned that digital voting could expose the UK’s political system to even greater cyber-threats. “Bizarrely, the stubby pencil and piece of paper that you put your cross on in the ballot box is actually much more secure than anything which is electronic”, Sawers said.

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