Hackers launch cyber attack on Parliament in bid to access email accounts

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Hackers have launched a cyber attack on Parliament in a bid to break into the email accounts of MPs, peers and their staff.

Users of the Westminster system have been unable to access their accounts remotely due to defensive measures put in place by parliamentary authorities to deal with the hack.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and National Crime Agency are probing the incident, which comes after reports that passwords for Cabinet ministers and MPs were being sold online by hackers.

A parliamentary spokesman said: “We have discovered unauthorised attempts to access accounts of parliamentary networks users and are investigating this ongoing incident, working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre.

“Parliament has robust measures in place to protect all of our accounts and systems, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect and secure our network.

“As a precaution we have temporarily restricted remote access to the network. As a result, some Members of Parliament and staff cannot access their email accounts outside of Westminster.

The National Cyber Security CentreThe National Cyber Security Centre is investigating the incident (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“IT services on the parliamentary estate are working normally. We will continue to keep members of both Houses of Parliament and the public updated as the situation develops.”

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the incident was no surprise after the recent major hacking attack against the NHS.

Dr Fox told the BBC: “We know that there are regular attacks by hackers attempting to get passwords.

“We have seen reports in the last few days of even Cabinet ministers’ passwords being for sale online.

Liam Fox International Trade Secretary Liam Fox says he is not surprised hackers have tried to gain access to parliamentary e-mails (David Mirzoeff/PA)

“We know that our public services are attacked so it is not at all surprising that there should be an attempt to hack into parliamentary emails.

“And it’s a warning to everybody, whether they are in Parliament or elsewhere, that they need to do everything possible to maintain their own cyber security, including having complex and therefore safer code words.”

The attack is believed to have started on Friday involving bids to access email accounts that had weak passwords.

Liberal Democrat peer Baron Rennard tweeted: “Cyber security attack on Westminster, Parliamentary e.mails may not work remotely.”

Henry Smith, Tory MP for Crawley, tweeted: “Sorry no parliamentary email access today – we’re under cyber attack from Kim Jong Un, (Vladimir) Putin or a kid in his mom’s basement or something…”

The National Crime Agency tweeted: “We’re aware of a possible cyber incident affecting parliament & are actively cooperating with @ncsc who’re leading the operational response.”

An email sent by parliamentary authorities to those impacted by the incident described the attack as “determined”, according to The Guardian.

It said the email stated: “Earlier this morning we discovered unusual activity and evidence of an attempted cyber attack on our computer network.

“Closer investigation by our team confirmed that hackers were carrying out a sustained and determined attack on all parliamentary user accounts in an attempt to identify weak passwords.

“These attempts specifically were trying to gain access to our emails.

“We have been working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre to identify the method of the attack and have made changes to prevent the attackers gaining access, however our investigation continues.”

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