‘Blackout threat’ sparks fears of cyber attack

Putin wins: Yesterday he was re-elected with 74% of the vote (and no major opposition). © Getty

Is the Russia debate becoming hysterical? As tensions with the UK escalate, water, power and finance companies have been warned of cyber attacks from the newly re-elected President Putin…

The lights flicker out across Britain. Water supplies are cut off. Hospitals are locked out of their patients’ medical files.

These are all extreme examples of what might happen if a major cyber attack was launched against Britain. And this weekend, several companies were put on “high alert” as they worked to protect themselves.

The potential attacker? Russia. It has been two weeks since a former Russian spy was poisoned in Salisbury. Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Russia of an “unlawful use of force” against Britain and expelled 23 Russian diplomats. The same number have been expelled from Moscow in response.

Tomorrow, May will decide what to do next. But as President Putin was re-elected yesterday, there were fears over how he might retaliate.

“In their current mood it’s hard to know what they will do,” a former GCHQ director told The Observer.

It is not just Britain. On Thursday last week, the US accused Russia of hacking its power grid. “They have the ability to shut the power off,” said one expert.

The UK is not defenceless. It has its own cyber weapons which could hit back at Russia, but some fear this could lead to an all-out “electronic war”.

Is the Russia debate getting out of hand?

To Russia, with love?

Yes, say some. As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said last week, the UK should not be “overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgement.” Anger over the Salisbury attack and fears of cyber warfare could lead it down a dangerous path. Now is the time to think clearly and tread carefully.

Do not underestimate the danger that Russia poses, argue others. It has been hacking foreign infrastructure, interfering with elections, and attempting to murder Putin’s enemies abroad. This cannot be allowed to continue, and the UK is right to take a strong stance against it.

You Decide

  1. Are you worried about cyber attacks from Russia?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are a journalist, and you have secured five minutes alone with Vladimir Putin. Write down five questions you would ask him.

Some People Say...

“If you want to control someone, all you have to do is to make them feel afraid.”

Paulo Coelho

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found unconscious on March 4. Yesterday, UK foreign secretary said Britain had evidence that Russia was behind their poisoning, which was carried out with a rare and deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union.
What do we not know?
Exactly who was responsible for the incident, how it happened, or why.

Word Watch

Former Russian spy
Sergei Skipral became a double agent working for Britain. He and his daughter are both critically ill, but stable, in hospital.
Re-elected
The victory surprised no one, as Putin’s main opposition, Alexei Navalny, was not allowed to run. One exit poll put turnout at around 63.7%.
GCHQ
The Government Communications Headquarters. One of Britain’s intelligence and security organisations.
Jeremy Corbyn
In parliament, the Labour leader also criticised the Conservative Party for taking donations from Russians, to cries of “shame!”

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