Russia’s cyber subversion is a threat to Britain’s democratic process a former head of GCHQ has warned.
Robert Hannigan gave a stark assessment of Kremlin-backed operations saying Russia was causing mayhem in cyberspace.
Mr Hannigan, who left his job as chief of the UK’s electronic eavesdropping agency earlier this year, said that “cyber retaliation” may one day be necessary to deter Russian activity.
He also warned that terrorists’ use of powerful encryption services cannot be tackled by new laws.
Senior ministers and spy chiefs have previously warned of a step change in Russian-backed cyber operations, targeting elections and political institutions throughout the West.
Mr Hannigan told the BBC: “There is a disproportionate amount of mayhem in cyberspace coming from Russia, from state activity.
“Starting to talk about it is good – calling it out. Improving our defences is obviously really important.
“But ultimately people will have to push back against Russian state activity and show that it’s unacceptable.”
Asked how that could be done, he said: “It doesn’t have to be done by cyber retaliation but it may be that that is necessary at some time in the future.
“It may be sanctions and other measures, just to put down some red lines and say that this behaviour is unacceptable.”
Russia has denied hacking attacks to undermine elections or political parties in the US, France and Germany.
The former spy chief also warned that new laws were a “blunt tool” for tackling terrorists’ use of encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp or Telegram.
Such end-to-end encryption services were here to stay and governments had to find ways to work with technology companies to tackle the problem.
He said he was also against building so-called “backdoors” into apps, saying the approach was “technically difficult” and would not work.
Mr Hannigan said: “I can’t see, particularly as many of these companies are US-based, that legislation is the answer on this. I don’t think there is a magic solution where you can just legislate it away.”
“Everyone would like a simple answer on encryption and unfortunately it is very difficult,” he said.