Suspected Kremlin hack on Liz Truss's mobile sparks security clampdown

Ministers ordered by spy chiefs to stop using their mobile phones after suspected Kremlin hack on Liz Truss sparks security clampdown

  • Ministers to be warned not to use personal phones for government business
  • Liz Truss’ phone thought to be spied on by Moscow while Foreign Secretary
  • Hack was discovered during Tory leadership contest during the summer
  • Worries MPs’ mobiles may be target of hostile states such as Russia and China 

Spy chiefs have ordered ministers to stop using their personal phones to conduct government business following a suspected Kremlin hack on Liz Truss’s mobile.

A Whitehall source said all ministers involved in national security would be expected to attend fresh training with the security services this week ‘to ensure everyone is aware how this material should be handled’.

Ministers will be warned they should never use their personal mobile phones to conduct Government business as they are likely to be the target of hostile states such as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

Pauline Neville-Jones, former chairman of Britain’s joint intelligence committee, yesterday said she was ‘not at all tolerant of the notion that it’s OK for ministers to use private mobile phones’.

The warnings follow astonishing revelations in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday that Miss Truss’s personal mobile was spied on by hackers thought to be working for Moscow while she was foreign secretary.

Spy chiefs have ordered ministers to stop using their personal phones to conduct government business following a suspected Kremlin hack on Liz Truss’s mobile

The hack was discovered during the Tory leadership contest in the summer, but a news blackout was ordered by Boris Johnson and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case. Even MPs and officials with top level security clearance were kept in the dark.

Miss Truss is said to have been so worried about the potential damage to her leadership bid that she ‘had trouble sleeping’ until the news was suppressed.

Messages dating back up to a year are thought to have been downloaded, including highly sensitive discussions with fellow foreign ministers about issues such as arms shipments to Ukraine.

Hacked messages are said to have included private criticisms of Mr Johnson by Miss Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, potentially opening them up to blackmail attempts at a time when they were both senior ministers in his government. 

Parliamentary sources yesterday said the shocking incident was now likely to be investigated by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which oversees the work of the security services.

One source on the committee said: ‘On the face of it, it looks extremely serious. The protocols around using secure lines have been in place for years – why on earth was the foreign secretary using her personal mobile? Frankly, it beggars belief.’ 

Baroness Neville-Jones, a former security minister, told Times Radio it was ‘extremely unhealthy’ for ministers to be conducting official business through private channels, particularly when using personal phones that are ‘vulnerable’ to hacking.

‘It’s common sense to know that your mobile is potentially vulnerable, and it is the rule that you don’t use it,’ she said. ‘This is what got Hillary Clinton into trouble.’

Pauline Neville-Jones (pictured), former chairman of Britain’s joint intelligence committee, yesterday said she was ‘not at all tolerant of the notion that it’s OK for ministers to use private mobile phones’

Former Army chief Lord Dannatt said the hacking incident suggested ‘ill discipline’ among ministers – and said it added to concerns about the forwarding of sensitive information by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, for which she resigned this month before being reinstated by Rishi Sunak.

He said the behaviour was ‘not good enough’.

‘If you want to communicate government business, use an encrypted handheld device, use a secure telephone line, use a secure means of communication,’ he said. 

‘People in senior positions have got access to these secure means of communicating and they should use them. Not doing so is ill discipline and, frankly, reflects very poorly on their judgment.’ 

Michael Gove did not dispute the report that Miss Truss’s phone had been hacked, saying the Mail on Sunday was ‘a trusted newspaper, so I don’t want in any way to cast doubt on its report’.

But the Levelling Up Secretary said ministers were told to take cybersecurity ‘incredibly seriously’, and that the Government had ‘very robust protocols in place’ to prevent hacking.

However, one security source said some ministers did not like using ‘clunky’ Government-issued encrypted mobiles. Another added: ‘Properly encrypted mobiles are available but they are less convenient, so not so popular.’

Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, said senior government ministers were ‘obvious targets’ for the security services of hostile powers.

He told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend show that ‘the likelihood’ was that Miss Truss’s phone had been targeted by Russia, which he said had ‘significant capabilities’ for hacking.

Professor Alan Woodward, cyber security specialist at the University of Surrey, said Miss Truss’s phone was most likely infected with spyware, which would have posted details of all her messages back to the hackers.

This is a security fiasco. We need an inquiry NOW, writes intelligence expert Professor ANTHONY GLEES 

Commentary by Professor Anthony Glees

The implications are horrifying. We now know a foreign power hacked the personal mobile phone of the talkative Liz Truss. The severity of this security breach can hardly be overstated.

As a former prime minister, ex-foreign secretary and ex-international trade secretary, Miss Truss was the chief custodian of our national security secrets and the recipient of invaluable MI6 intelligence.

We need an immediate judicial inquiry, led by a High Court judge, to establish how this happened, who was responsible and precisely what information was compromised.

Truss was in charge of delivering national security: The most sacred duty of any government.

We are deeply – and rightly – involved in a major war in our neighbourhood, as the European leader of a western coalition against Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Our closest allies’ trust in us will have been greatly threatened by this fiasco.

I believe Boris Johnson, who was prime minister at the time, should not have suppressed the news, although it is possible there were sound security reasons why this had to be done.

If the media had been able to report the story, Liz Truss would have had no choice but to resign. It goes without saying that her ambitions to lead the country would have been over.

ANTHONY GLEES: The most likely culprits are the Russians – though we also cannot discount China, Iran, North Korea or, conceivably, Israel, which has invested vast sums into electronic surveillance

The most likely culprits are the Russians – though we also cannot discount China, Iran, North Korea or, conceivably, Israel, which has invested vast sums into electronic surveillance.

Analysts at GCHQ are trying to work out who hacked her, and how much damage has been done.

I suspect the Kremlin, not just because Britain – and especially under Boris – has been such an influential ally to Ukraine, but because of the way Liz Truss was treated in Moscow last February, when she met Russian foreign secretary Sergey Lavrov.

The rudeness and disdain shown to her during that visit might have stemmed from the fact that Lavrov perhaps knew almost as much about Truss as she knew herself.

It’s almost impossible to overestimate how much private information, and how many government secrets, might have been betrayed. The hackers could read her emails and WhatsApp messages and listen to her phone calls, of course.

But the latest surveillance software is far more sophisticated than that.

Even when a phone is switched off, a spy operator can switch it back on again and activate the microphone. This enables the phone to be used as a listening device. It is conceivable that the camera was used, too. Certainly, the phone’s GPS device would have transmitted her location at all times – a chilling threat to her personal security.

Cabinet ministers are not supposed to take their personal phones into No10, the Foreign Office or other sensitive zones. We don’t know if Liz Truss complied with this rule – another reason why a judicial inquiry is imperative.

We do know she routinely used her personal phone instead of her government-issued device, which has much more robust anti-hacking protection. Now we need to find out the true cost of this behaviour.

Professor Anthony Glees is a security and intelligence expert at the University of Buckingham.

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