Iran responsible for cyber attack on UK politicians - Whitehall sources

The hack on Britain’s Parliament, which took place in June, compromised 90 email accounts

The UK's parliament and Big Ben. Reuters / Neil Hall
The UK's parliament and Big Ben. Reuters / Neil Hall

A cyber attack on the UK’s Parliament, which affected dozens of senior politicians including Prime Minister Theresa May, was carried out by Iran, British media has reported.

The Daily Telegraph, citing sources within Whitehall, said intelligence officials had concluded that Tehran was responsible for the attack in June, which lasted more than half a day. The Times newspaper carried a similar report.

The timing of the revelation is awkward for Mrs May, as it came the day after Britain joined other European countries in warning the United States against abandoning the nuclear deal with Iran.US President Donald Trump is likely to point to the attack as proof that signatories to the deal, including Mrs May, are underestimating Tehran.


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According to The Times, the cyber attack on June 23 was Iran's first significant attack on a British target. It came just over a month after a ransomware worm crippled parts of the country's health service.

Around 9,000 email accounts were subjected to the attack, which exploited weak passwords to gain access to sensitive material. Out of those, around 90 accounts were accessed.

While the full list of those hacked has not been released, it is believed over 30 MPs were compromised.

“It was a brute-force attack. It appears to have been state-sponsored. The nature of cyber-attacks means it is notoriously difficult to attribute an incident to a specific actor,” a security source told the Guardian newspaper in June.

Initially it was thought that Russia or North Korea might have been the culprit but according to the media reports, investigators have now traced the attack to the Tehran regime.

Sources cited by The Times described the Tehran regime as “highly capable actors in the cyberworld”. One said: “It was not the most sophisticated attack but nor did it need to be. It is possible they were simply testing their capability.”

While the motive for the attack has not yet been established, the hackers were not seeking simple financial profit, The Times said. The possibility of obtaining a commercial advantage has not, however, been ruled out, while other theories include “classic cyber-espionage” to find sensitive material which could hurt British interests.

Ewan Lawson, of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said it was possible that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard was behind the hacking activities because it wanted to undermine the nuclear deal, and resume its weapons programme.

Britain's National Cyber Security Centre was not immediately available for comment. The Iranian government also had no immediate comment.

On Friday, President Trump delivered a fiery speech decertifying the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in which he threatened to “terminate” it.

Mr Trump launched a war of words in addressing the Iranian government accusing the regime of aiding terrorist networks, dishonouring the agreement.

Mrs May, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded by releasing a statement, in which they said they were “committed" to the nuclear deal.

"We, the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom take note of President Trump's decision not to recertify Iran's compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) to Congress and are concerned by the possible implications,” the statement read.

"We stand committed to the JCPoA and its full implementation by all sides. Preserving the JCPoA is in our shared national security interest.

"The nuclear deal was the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy and was a major step towards ensuring that Iran's nuclear programme is not diverted for military purposes."

Iran will be one of the topics of conversation when British foreign secretary Boris Johnson travels to Moscow later this year, the UK government announced on Friday.

Mr Johnson cancelled what would have been the first visit to Russia in five years by a British foreign secretary in April due to a poison gas attack in a rebel-held area of Syria that prompted the US to carry out missile strikes.

Britain’s foreign ministry said Mr Johnson, on his rescheduled Moscow visit, wished to discuss North Korea, Iran and regional stability in the Middle East, as well as security for the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament in Russia.

Updated: October 14, 2017 05:24 PM


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