UK charity set up to counter Russian disinformation targeted in cyber attack

National Crime Agency investigating 'theft of data' from Institute for Statecraft

Chiara Giordano
Wednesday 06 March 2019 23:29 GMT
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A UK charity set up to counter Russian disinformation has been targeted in a cyberattack.

The National Crime Agency said it is leading an investigation into the theft of data from the government-funded Institute for Statecraft.

The charity, which received £2m this financial year, has removed all content from its website while the investigation is ongoing.

A statement on the organisation’s website said it believed the attack was an attempt to “undermine” its attempts to counter the threat to European democracies.

Sky News reported Whitehall sources had suggested the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, was suspected of being behind the hack.

The National Crime Agency confirmed it was conducting a criminal investigation into a suspected cyberattack against the Institute for Statecraft “and the subsequent release of information”.

The agency said it could not comment further as the investigation was ongoing.

A message on the institute’s website said: “All content has been temporarily removed from this site, pending an investigation into the theft of data from the Institute for Statecraft and its programme, the Integrity Initiative.

The home page of The Institute for Statecraft displays a message from the institute following a suspected cyber attack on the website.

“Initial findings indicate that the theft was part of a campaign to undermine the work of the Integrity Initiative in researching, publicising and countering the threat to European democracies from disinformation and other forms of hybrid warfare.

“The website will be relaunched shortly. In the meantime, we expect to be able to publish an analysis of the hack and its significance in the near future.”

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Questions were raised about the organisation after reports Foreign Office money was used in a “smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn”, which were categorically denied by a minister.

Amid calls for an independent inquiry into the integrity initiative, Europe minister Sir Alan Duncan said the claims were “wholly untrue”.

Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons in December last year, he said: “The Institute for Statecraft is an independent UK-based charity whose work seeks to improve governance and enhance national security.

“It runs a project called the integrity initiative, which is working to counter disinformation overseas by bringing together groups of experts to analyse and discuss the problem posed by Russian disinformation.

“The government are funding this initiative with nearly £2m this financial year.

“That funding covers its activity outside the UK and it does not fund any activity within the UK, nor does it fund the management of the integrity initiative’s social media account.

“Recent reports that Foreign Office funding has been used to support party political activity in the UK are therefore wholly untrue.”

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