As the so-called cold war heats up between Russia and the rest of the world, so too does the capability of Britain’s cyber arsenal. In an interview with The Sunday Times recently, unnamed defence officials have stated that they have been practising cyber-attacks which could potentially cause widespread cyber damage to Moscow following recent reports from GCHQ of Russian cyber-attacks on institutions and governments in the west.
Demonstrating capability in the arena of cyber warfare is becoming central to the West’s strategy to contain a growing threat from Russia. One source from British Defences in the interview, “This is why cyber is so important; you can go on the offensive and turn off the lights in Moscow to tell them that they are not doing the right things”.
The claims from UK Defence Chiefs come at a very frosty time for the bilateral relationship of the UK and Russia. The recent Skripal poisoning and the Dutch cyber attack fiasco are just the latest in a string of provocative attacks from the Soviet state.
A massive military preparation exercise which cost £100 million was recently carried out in lieu of all this in the Omani Desert involving 6 British warships and more than 5,500 troops, in preparation for the possibility of attacks like the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.
Efforts by Russian Intelligence to compromise Western infrastructures and to destabilise governments have been well documented by political commentators, many of whom claim we are heading for a new kind of cold war, a claim which was echoed last month by Labour Deputy Leader, Tom Watson.
But other commentators, such as Francis Fukuyama, argue that rather than the ideologically based attacks of the old Soviet Union, these attacks are simple attempts to cause chaos in the governments under whose scrutiny Russia’s human rights abuses have fallen.
Putin’s internet advisor Herman Klimenko stated in a TV interview back in March of this year that if a hypothetical internet shutdown was carried out, “Technically, we [would be] ready for any action.” Continuing on to say, “If our colleagues disconnect us from the switch tomorrow, I don’t know if it will be painless, though we’ve been promised that it will be painless,” he added. He was fired from his post in July following these remarks.
As for the Russian ability to launch a cyber attack on Britain which, the Sunday Times insists, this would cause power blackouts, bring chaos to the roads and paralyse the NHS.