Just before Christmas, a manager for a small charity in Orkney was baffled to learn she couldn’t access some of her computer files. Parts of the database were locked, she saw, encrypted by a virus.
Then came the real shock. In order to unlock the files belonging to the Dial-a-Bus charity, hackers were demanding £1,000 in an untraceable Bitcoin payment.
The attack was petty, immoral, and all too predictable. Fortunately for the disabled people who relied on this service in the remote Scottish islands, all their bookings could be located on a second computer.
The incident, one of hundreds of ransom attacks around the world that month alone, revealed how common this type of crime has been.
This is piracy in the digital age.
And today, with relations between Russia and the West on the verge of decay, cybercrime, although a serious concern, could yield far more widespread disruption across the United Kingdom in the weeks and months ahead.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister warned Moscow that Britain will impose sanctions, the moment the first Russian toe cap crosses into Ukraine, and in America, there are already warnings of blowback including cyberattacks, if Britain and its allies stand with Kiev against Russian attack.
Russia is already one of the world’s most notorious centres of cyberattacks. These criminals are not under the direct control of the Kremlin, but Vladimir Putin definitely tolerates their operations as long as they spare Russian businesses and interests.
Let’s be clear about this, this isn’t the result of a lone hacker in a bedroom. It requires pricey gear, the latest software and an army of operatives, and if relations between Britain and Russia degenerate further, experts warn further attacks could be unleashed against us.
Sensational commentators have conjured apocalyptic scenarios, with Russian hackers shutting down our banks or causing airliners to spiral out of the sky.
Save that for Hollywood. British banks have excellent protection against hacking, and even if our entire air traffic control system suffered a blackout, pilots could still land every aircraft safely.
Vladimir Putin is extremely unlikely to consider such attacks in any case, just as he wouldn’t order the shutdown of Britain’s national electricity grid, the way he twice sought to shut down power in parts of Kiev during the bitter winters of 2015 and 2016.
Such immense, blatant retaliation by Russia to swingeing sanctions is doubtful. Applying it against any Nato country would risk serious escalation.
But if the Russians do attempt to strike, the Americans and most of Europe would have been hacking for a long time, but they’ve been keeping their powder dry so they can deliver a devastating blow when needed.
Although it’s far more likely that the American’s will bombard our systems, blame Russia and then demand broad embargoes on Russia be triggered, and is the UK actually powerful enough and does it have enough resources to fight a cyberwar with Russia? Because there’s a huge difference between wishful thinking and reality.
And why is the United Kingdom getting involved in other countries affairs again? Perhaps it’s so that they can deflect the troubles and incompetences at home?
The United Kingdom should just stay out of this completely because our military is weak, which has been diluted by buffoon Boris Johnson, and now he wants to look the big man.
However, it’s evident that the Russian foe is already at work to yield as much disarray as possible, and it would be right to point out how much more destructive it could get unless defensive measures are taken.