Commenting on the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report of Russian activity in the UK, Dr Duncan Hodges, Senior Lecturer in Cyberspace Operations at Cranfield University, said:

“This is a forceful report and while it has no major surprises in the detail, it does clearly frame the Russian threat to the UK. It demonstrates that the threat from Russia is significant and here to stay.

“Russia has learnt that cyber is a powerful tool for their approach to international relations using it alongside more traditional statecraft. This cyber capability is used indiscriminately and recklessly by a state with a significant risk appetite. Where Russia are particular effective is by using all means at their disposal, including criminal actions, to pursue their goals effectively linking their cyber activities, their financial and political influence and their traditional intelligence activities. This has put Russia ahead of the game and is, partly, why their actions have been so effective.

Historical fragmented UK approach to Cyber

“The report is critical of how fragmented the UK approach has historically been, with the responsibility for cyber resting in multiple departments. Responsibility for managing and countering the threat from Russia seems to rest not in one place, more concerningly was the lack of appetite to counter disinformation and political influence with the report describing it as a ‘hot potato’.

“The calls from the UK intelligence community for new legislation are striking and it is not surprising that the Official Secrets Act which is now over 30 years old is no longer fit for purpose against this form of activity. It will be interesting to see whether the Government heed the calls from senior intelligence officials who clearly believe they do not have the legislative tools to do the job.

Russia end goal not necessarily to influence election results but to deepen divides

“Russia’s end goal is not necessarily to influence election results, and the report highlighted that the UK Government had not seen or indeed sought evidence of successful interference. One of Russia’s key goals is to further deepen divides in the population, whether that is with Brexit in the UK or with gun control or BLM in the US. For them it is little effort, so any gain is beneficial and helps weaken the West, EU and NATO, this not only structurally benefits Russia but is important for the domestic population at home in Russia.

“The report also highlights the UK’s lead in attributing and ‘calling-out’ malicious cyber activity, whilst important for international consensus building, it’s not clear that this is a deterrent to future activity.”

About Cranfield University

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