British and American intelligence agencies issued an unprecedented joint warning on Monday, alerting citizens of both nations that a Russian led hacking offensive was targeting millions of computers across the globe in order to spy on governments and pave the way for an attack on critical infrastructure operators.
The UK's National Cyber Security Centre, along with the US Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the White House, claimed the penetration had reached such an extent that it was evident that President Putin was in possession of a “tremendous weapon”.
As part of a move looked upon as being preparation for future offensives, the attacks allegedly targeted routers, which play a crucial part in the infrastructure of the world wide web.
Tens of thousands of devices in properties across the UK were said to be in the sights of Russian cyber-experts tasked with hunting for weak spots in home internet systems, such as simple passwords and lapsed anti-virus software.
Security officials stated that the Kremlin-backed hackers were pursuing methods that would allow them to remain undetected within networks, offering them the ability to launch a cyber-attack if given the order to do so, and stressed that businesses had also been targeted, with hackers looking to steal intellectual property from companies within the UK.
The very public attack on Moscow and its “malicious cyberactivity” by the two western allies was part of an effort to deter Putin from unloading the full potential of his weapon into cyberspace.
Ciaran Martin, head of the NCSC, said that Britain's warning to Russia over its online activities was “a significant moment in the transatlantic fightback against Russian aggression in cyberspace.”
It was also revealed that Labour party MPs had previously been warned of an attempt to hack into parliamentary emails, but it was not known if the perpetrators had been successful in doing so or whether it was directly linked to Russia.
Routers, including some made by Cisco, one of the largest internet infrastructure companies, were among those penetrated by Russia, which was known to have been targeting Britain's networks, among other countries, for more than two decades.
But this marked the first time that Downing Street had publicly clapped back at the Kremlin for such aggression.