Head of UK GCHQ praises government unit countering disinformation surrounding Russia-Ukraine war

Jeremy Fleming reflects upon dangerous disinformation war and pays tribute to Ukrainian cybersecurity amid sustained intent from Russia to disrupt government and military systems.

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The head of UK’s GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has praised a new government unit tasked with countering Kremlin disinformation campaigns surrounding the Russia-Ukraine war. Speaking at the Australian Nationwide University in Canberra yesterday, he also paid tribute to Ukrainian cybersecurity amid sustained intent from Russia to disrupt government and military systems.

Dangerous disinformation war is being waged

“Russia wrote the hybrid warfare book. State media, online media and agents of influence are all used to obfuscate motivations and justify military actions,” Fleming said. “Their aim is to promulgate disinformation. To sow mistrust in the evidence and to amplify false narratives. It’s also to make sure that the real picture of what’s going on doesn’t get exposed inside Russia.”

This is where the most dangerous disinformation war is being waged, Fleming added. “We know Putin’s campaign is beset by problems – low morale, logistical failures, and high Russian casualty numbers. We’ve seen Putin lie to his own people in an attempt to hide military incompetence, and all of that means he seeks brutal control of the media and access to the internet, he seeks the closing down of opposition voices, and he’s making heavy investment in their propaganda and covert agencies.”

In the UK, a new Government Information Cell has been working to identify and counter Kremlin disinformation targeted at UK and international audiences, Fleming said. “It brings together expertise from across government to challenge false narratives. It deals in facts, not falsehoods; making sure that the truth is told well.” Many of those truths come from intelligence, and it is a remarkable feature of this conflict just how much intelligence has been so quickly declassified to get ahead of Putin’s actions, he continued. “In my view, intelligence is only worth collecting if we use it, so I unreservedly welcome this development.”

Aspects of Russia-Ukraine war playing out in cyberspace

Fleming reflected upon commentary expressing surprise that the world is yet to see Russian deploy a major cyberattack as part of their campaign. “However, that is not to say that we haven’t seen cyber in this conflict. We have – and lots of it,” he stated. The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has detected sustained intent from Russia to disrupt Ukrainian government and military systems, Fleming added. “We’ve seen what looks like some spillover of activity affecting surrounding countries, and we’ve certainly seen indications which suggest Russia’s cyber actors are looking for targets in the countries that oppose their actions. So just as we pay tribute to the Ukrainian military’s brave actions, we should pay tribute to Ukrainian cybersecurity too. We and other allies will continue to support them in shoring up their defences.”

In the UK, GCHQ is doing all it can to ensure sure that businesses and government urgently follow through on plans to improve basic levels of cyber resilience, Fleming said. He also commented upon the extent to which non-state actors are becoming involved in the conflict and impacting its outcome. “We’ve seen cyber hacking and ransomware groups pledging allegiance to both sides. We’ve seen technology providers step up to make sure that Ukraine can stay connected, or to address disinformation.” This is making the space very complicated, and in some ways, way beyond the control of governments, he said. “It’s another reminder of the interconnectedness of the World today, and as no single entity holds the whole solution, it highlights a need for global institutions effectively working in coalition.”

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