Hackers from hostile states continue to probe and attempt to access UK computer networks on a daily basis, according to security minister Ben Wallace, with Russia leading the pack.
Speaking on Radio 4's Today Programme Wallace said: "I see, every day, hostile states as we call them, on our networks, attempting to get onto our networks, prosecuting either espionage or scanning of our networks and the Russians are at the front of the queue of doing that."
He said investments in GCHQ and the National Cyber Security Centre were helping to "help push back" those attempts.
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Wallace added: "We also see, regularly, cybercrime that is often state sponsored and when you and I get dubious emails in our inboxes, they are not always from just simple organised crime groups, they are often from organised crime groups in some rogue states or hostile states who somehow have the protection of that [state], this has been ongoing for many years."
A number of Whitehall briefings suggest the UK may turn to cyberwarfare to retaliate following the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, which has been blamed on agents of Russia's GRU military intelligence agency. According to The Times newspaper, this response could involve targeting groups that support the intelligence services, particularly those linked to criminality or Kremlin figures.
Wallace said: "We choose to challenge the Russians in both the overt and covert space within the rule of law."
Attempts by state-backed hackers to access sensitive UK networks is nothing new, but western governments have struggled to find a way to deter attacks on their networks in recent years and the increasing use of the internet and social media for spreading misinformation and propaganda, an issue referred to by UK Prime Minister Theresa May when she updated parliament on the investigation into the nerve agent attack.
"As we look at the threat that is posed by Russia and at those that we also see from a whole variety of other sources, what is important is that we not only look at the conventional way in which we have dealt with those threats, but recognise the diverse and varied way in which malign state activity is undertaken today. As I referenced in my statement, we see a lot of propaganda and cyber-activity taking place by the Russian state. We need to make sure that we have all the tools at our disposal, and that will run across a number of parts of government and not simply the Ministry of Defence," she said.
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