British spies defending Ukraine from Russian cyber attacks, government reveals
British intelligence services have been instrumental in shielding Ukraine from Russian cyber attacks since Moscow’s invasion was launched in February, it has been revealed.
Junior foreign office minister Leo Docherty, who made known details of the previously top-secret cyber defence programme, said the damage inflicted by Russian hackers would have been “very significant” without the backing of UK spies.
“We’ve seen on a daily basis now the terrible images of the way that the electrical grid in Ukraine has been battered by ballistic strikes and drone strikes from the Russians – they face the same threat and same challenge in the cyber domain,” he told the BBC.
Mr Docherty also told Sky News that Britain had fortified its own cyber defence systems due to the Russian threat.
“We’re already on the frontline … We are aware of the threat. We have raised our own preparations and our own defences,” he told the broadcaster.
“That’s why we’ve got some deep expertise when it comes to cyber defence and that’s why we’ve been very pleased to share it with our Ukrainian allies.”
The so-called Ukraine Cyber Programme costs in the region of £6m and was launched on 24 February this year – the same day that Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his troops over the border and into Ukraine.
The support programme has been made public after secrecy around its operations was deemed by FCDO officials to no longer be necessary – an indication that Moscow was already aware of the scheme.
The absence of any major cyber attacks on Kyiv is thought not to be because Russia did not try, but down to the success of Ukraine’s cyber defenders, bolstered by foreign governments, including Britain, and the cyber industry.
“It’s the Ukrainians at the forefront of the fight in terms of defending their homeland and … we provided some of the material and expertise to allow them to do that very, very efficiently,” Mr Docherty told Sky News.
Britain has also furnished Ukraine with hardware and software to bolster its cyber defences, including firewalls, to enable people to access vital information and services.
Forensic capabilities so cyber analysts in Ukraine are better able to understand who attacked them and how have also been supplied.
Foreign secretary James Cleverly said: “The UK’s support to Ukraine is not limited to military aid – we are drawing on Britain’s world-leading expertise to support Ukraine’s cyber defences.
“Together, we will ensure that the Kremlin is defeated in every sphere: on land, in the air and in cyber space.”
“The threat remains real and the UK’s support package is undoubtedly bolstering Ukraine’s defences further,” said Lindy Cameron, chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre.