Britain on Wednesday hit out at countries including Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea over cyberattacks, calling for a global effort to counter online threats.
Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said an international coalition was needed to strengthen cybersecurity against state actors and criminals seeking to subvert democratic norms.
Authoritarian states were “bending the principles to meet their own malicious ends”, he told an online conference organised by Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).
“These actors are the industrial-scale vandals of the 21st century. They want to undermine the very foundations of our democracy,” he added.
Raab said there was a “clash of values” between countries wanting to protect “open societies” and others pushing an “authoritarian international system”.
It follows on from a call last week by foreign ministers of the G7 which Britain currently heads for a more joined-up approach to tackle global threats, including in cyberspace.
In Britain, Russia in particular has been accused of meddling in the 2019 general election and the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
Russia-based actors have also been blamed for attempts to steal vital coronavirus research from British, US, and Canadian labs.
British lawmakers last year lambasted the government for failing to investigate potential Russian interference in British politics, including the 2016 Brexit referendum.
A long-awaited defence review in March proposed greater investment in Britain’s cyber warfare capabilities.
Raab said: “When states like Russia have criminals and gangs operating from their territory, they have a responsibility to prosecute those gangs, not to shelter them.
“We use our capabilities because they are necessary to defend our citizens and safeguard international collaboration – our adversaries use their power to steal, sabotage and ransack the international system.”
Britain’s NCSC dealt with 723 major incidents – the highest figure since its formation five years ago – and stopped 700,000 online scams in the past year, Raab added.
London has banned Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from involvement in the roll-out of the country’s superfast 5G broadband network, after US concerns about spying.
The United States has also suffered a recent spate of cyberattacks, including one on a fuel pipeline system last week, and a major hack against software firm SolarWinds.
At least 30,000 US organisations suffered cyberattacks after Microsoft email servers were targeted by alleged Chinese cyber spies.
Raab said Britain would be a leading cyberpower and work with allies to create a cyberspace “that is free, open and benefits all countries and all people”.
He also announced a GBP 22 million (roughly Rs. 230 crores) investment programme to help African and Asian countries bolster their cybersecurity capabilities.