By Lydia Jackson
The National Cyber Security Centre, which forms part of UK Government and Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), has contacted the leaders of political parties amidst concerns over potential Russian hacking in relation to the General Elections.
Chief Executive Ciaran Martin has suggested, via a letter, that parties should accept an offering to improve security systems in preparation for the elections, the next of which is set to take place on 7th May 2020.
The protection of servers from foreign hackers has been identified by GCHQ as “priority work”, as “attacks against our democratic processes go beyond [political party network security] and can include attacks on parliament, constituency offices, think tanks and pressure groups, and individuals’ email accounts.”
GCHQ last year identified that Russian hackers had targeted the 2015 elections, in what was thought to be the first ever cyber-attack on the British political system.
The threat, which was thought imminent at the time, was successfully blocked by analysts through their implementation of defensive measures to bolster Whitehall’s cyber security, and through warning television networks which were also deemed to be a target.
The UK is not the only state with concerns over Russian hackers, as allegations have been made regarding hackers targeting democratic elections in various countries over the last six months.
US intelligence services have make statements this year that they have identified Russian agents which sent stolen Democratic party emails to Wikileaks in order to swing the vote against Hilary Clinton.
Intelligence officials also made claims that they have identified emails within the Russian government celebrating the win of now President Donald Trump.
Reports tell that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, as well as the Russian government, have denied information came from Russian hackers.
Bruno Kahl, head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (German Federal Intelligence Service) has also released statements outlining that he has “evidence that cyber-attacks are taking place that have no purpose other than to elicit political uncertainty”.
In his first interview since being appointed last year, he stated that “the perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process”.
He later clarified that the perpetrators were thought to be Russian.
Specific accusations against Russian secret services include carrying out attacks on computer systems “aimed at comprehensive strategic data gathering”, as well as the spread of fake news stories as a form of destabilising propaganda.
Emmanuel Macron, current favourite to win the elections, has reportedly also been victimised through fake news.
According to his Digital Campaign Manager, Mounir Mahjoubi, “Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik News [are] the first source of false information shared about our candidate.”
He claims that this is because Macron represents a centrist style of politics, and a pro-European stance.
Mahjoubi has also stated that servers linked to Macron’s political movement, En Marche, which was formed after he broke away from the Socialist Party (currently in government and headed by Francoise Hollande), have been targeted by hackers.
However, he clarified that none of these attempts have been successful.
Interestingly, none of the four countries have yet released any substantiated evidence of their hacking claims.
Nonetheless, the perceived threat to democracy has led to the decision to organise a cyber security summit in the UK.