UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has warned that Russia could cause multiple thousands of deaths with a cyberattack on Britain’s energy supply and infrastructure.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Williamson said that Russia has been researching the UK’s critical infrastructure – potentially with a view to causing disruptions. Knowledge of how this infrastructure connects to continental power supplies could allow Russian authorities to disrupt British energy access.
The UK has eight undersea pipelines for transferring gas and electricity between the country and the European continent. These connections could be vulnerable to cyberattack, and Williamson insisted that the Kremlin would not hesitate to take action that “any other nation would see as completely unacceptable”.
He added that such an attack would have great potential to devastate the country. It would, he argued, “damage [Britain’s] economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of death [and] have an element of creating total chaos within the country”.
How likely is a Russian cyberattack?
As reported by the BBC, the warning was backed up by a statement earlier this week by Ciaran Martin, chief of the National Cyber Security Centre. He said that Russia was “seeking to undermine the international system” and accused the country of hacking British media, telecommunications and energy sectors.
Prime Minister Theresa May has also spoken of “a sustained campaign of cyber-espionage and disruption” being undertaken by Russia. However, the Russian Embassy said that the allegations were false, and implied that these conclusions were based on “wrong intelligence”.
The head of the British army, Sir Nick Carter, has also cautioned that the UK is falling behind Russia’s defence capabilities. The defence secretary’s comments were made at the beginning of a new five-month-long defence review, which could see significant cuts to the UK’s Ministry of Defence. Williamson has suggested he will seek more money for the department to avoid reductions in army personnel numbers and naval capabilities.