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Russian cyber attack would cripple UK infrastructure, warns defence secretary

An attack would cause "thousands and thousands of deaths" says Gavin Williamson

UK business

The UK's defence secretary has warned that a cyber attack by Russia could cripple Britain's infrastructure and cause "thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths".

Gavin Williamson told The Telegraph that the Russian government has been researching the UK's energy supply and supporting infrastructure, which if it were to launch a cyber attack against would cause "total chaos" for Britain.

Williamson noted that a cyber attack from Russian is the "real threat" the UK is currently facing, noting that an attack from Moscow would come from the digital not physical world.

"The plan for the Russians won't be for landing craft to appear in the South Bay in Scarborough, and off Brighton beach," Williamson told the Telegraph.

"They are going to be thinking, 'how can we just cause so much pain to Britain?

"Damage its economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths, but actually have an element of creating total chaos within the country."

Such comments may be seen as hyperbolic and paranoia tinged, but Williamson statements were backed up by security minister Lord West, who also serves as Britain's First Seal Lord. West said he was "absolutely certain" Russia has been looking at how it could access the UK's critical infrastructure.

Moscow has not responded to Williamson's claims at the time of writing.

23/01/18: NCSC: Severe cyber attack on UK is unavoidable

A serious cyber attack on the UK's vital infrastructure is inevitable, according to the head of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

The UK has been lucky to avoid such an attack while the US, France, and Ukraine have all suffered this kind of interference, but that luck won't last forever, said Ciaran Martin in an interview with the Guardian.

"It is a matter of when, not if and we will be fortunate to come to the end of the decade without having to trigger a category one attack," he said.

"Some attacks will get through. What you need to do is cauterise the damage."

Category one attacks include any hacks that can damage or bring down infrastructure like energy grids, financial services or even elections.

The US is still investigating the extent of suspected Russian interference in its 2016 presidential election, while France withdrew an electronic vote over hacking fears in June last year. Ukraine's power grid was brought down by a hack known as BlackEnergy in 2015, and suffered a similar power cut a year later.

The NCSC is due to publish a report on how successful its security strategies have proved since it opened in October 2016, according to the Guardian.

The dossier will include a ranking of cyber attacks, which sees the WannaCry ransomware that targeted businesses but also hospitals classed as a category two attack, partly because it presented no risk to life, though it caused widespread delays to hospital operations.

There were 32 such category two attacks, the NCSC told the publication, and 762 category three attacks.

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