West condemns ‘malign’ Russia as US expels diplomats, imposes sanctions
Britain and America accused Russia yesterday of carrying out the biggest cyberattack on the West, condemning it for an assault on democracies.
Russia’s foreign intelligence service was ‘‘highly likely’’ to be responsible for last year’s ‘‘Solarwinds’’ hack of the US government, Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said.
The Foreign Office summoned the Russian ambassador to London to be notified of the conclusion. He was also warned over Russia’s ‘‘pattern of malign activity, including cyberintrusions, interference in democratic processes, and the buildup of military forces near the Ukrainian border and in illegally annexed Crimea’’, a spokesman said. At least 200 organisations around the world were affected by the months-long Solarwinds attack, including Nato, the European parliament, and government agencies in Washington.
In Britain the NCSC identified a ‘‘low single-digit number’’ of public sector organisations that had been targeted.
The announcement from the agency, part of GCHQ, came as President Joe Biden expelled 10 Russian diplomats, believed to be intelligence agents, in response to the hacking and alleged interference in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. The UK Foreign Office said that Britain would not join in the expulsions because no further Russian intelligence agents had been working in the UK since 23 were ejected after the 2018 novichok attack in Salisbury. Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said that Britain and the US were determined to stand against Russia’s ‘‘malign behaviour’’, adding: ‘‘We see what Russia is doing to undermine our democracies. The UK and the US are calling out Russia’s malicious behaviour to enable our international partners and businesses at home to better defend and prepare themselves against this kind of action.’’
Britain joined the US, the EU, Canada and Australia in placing sanctions on eight individuals for Russia’s occupation of Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The US also imposed new sanctions for the cyberattacks, election interference, the placing of bounties on the heads of US soldiers in Afghanistan and other ‘‘malign’’ acts. They include the attempted killing of the Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
The most damaging sanctions set limits for US participation in the Russian sovereign debt market, an action that sent the rouble plunging. Another 32 Russian entities and individuals were blacklisted for election meddling.
The NCSC named Cozy Bear, the Dukes and APT29 as the hackers used by Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR) for the Solarwinds hack. The SVR is the successor to the KGB’S First Chief Directorate and ‘‘predominantly targets overseas governmental, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy targets’’, the Foreign Office said.