Cybersecurity experts are calling for greater vigilance after it emerged that Russian hackers targeted former trade minister and Conservative MP Liam Fox.
UK-US trade documents leaked ahead of the 2019 election were stolen from the email account of Liam Fox by Russian hackers, who targeted the MP using spear phishing methods to gain access to his account.
Reuters, who first reported the story, said the hackers accessed the account multiple times between 12 Jul and 21 October last year.
With such nation-state-backed attacks on the rise, cybersecurity specialists argue greater vigilance is key to combating the mounting threat of interference.
Phishing attacks are now a malicious threat that all organisations face, but governments are a “particularly attractive target”, according to Chad Anderson, senior security researcher at threat intelligence company DomainTools, due to the “financially lucrative or politically sensitive information they hold”.
Among the stolen information were papers outlining British trade negotiations with the US, which the Labour Party published online during their 2019 campaign as evidence that the NHS would be put at risk by the Conservative government.
Liam Fox targeted by Russian hackers in “another reminder” of risks
A spokeswoman for the British government said the government had “very robust systems in place to protect the IT systems of officials and staff”, but said it would be inappropriate to comment on how the documents were acquired as there is an ongoing criminal investigation.
Dave Mount, Europe’s Director at Cofense, a phishing defence company, said:
“It is another reminder of an uncomfortable truth, that no matter how good your secure email gateway, malicious emails will still reach an organisation’s inboxes.”
He added that individuals need to be vigilant and organisations need to “educate users to recognise emerging threats and encourage them to report suspicious emails, staying alert to the threats and reducing the risks”.
ESET cybersecurity specialist Jake Moore added: “Those at risk in high profile positions must double check everything before entering confidential data such as passwords and one-time passcodes. An easy slip up can be extremely costly.”
Net Documents VP of International Business Guy Phillips highlighted that this data breach is a huge concern for the UK government.
“Data protection and multi-layered encryption should be at the core of today’s document and email management practices,” he said.
“Inevitably questions will be raised if the Department for International Trade is found wanting.”
This is not the first time Russia has been accused of interfering in UK elections. Last month the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report found that the government had failed to sufficiently investigate potential Russian attempts to sway the 2016 Brexit referendum as well as the 2014 Scottish independence vote.
Liam Fox was international trade secretary from July 2016 to July 2019 when he stood down on July 24 in a cabinet reshuffle.