On Tuesday, The Times reported, citing a high-ranking UK cabinet source, that the UK government might consider the possibility of organizing a secret cyberattack against Russia with the use of hacking software.
Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious last week on a bench at a shopping center in Salisbury. Both of them remain in critical condition and are being treated for suspected exposure to a chemical.
Experts agreed that the United Kingdom is unlikely to conduct a cyberattack against Russia, as there would be a number of other responses that the country would consider first, and that any cyberattack would be conducted without public disclosure.
The Times stated that cyberoperations against Russia might include attacks on the Kremlin's computer networks, websites described as publishing "fake news" and other targets.
Professor in Cybersecurity at the City University of London Tom Chen said that it would nevertheless be unlikely that the United Kingdom would publicly announce its motivation to conduct a cyberattack, or choose this as a tactic for such a public case.
"Cyberattacks are best for stealth actions 'in the shadows.' This story has been prominent in the news, so my guess is that if the UK wants to respond, it would be a public one … Exercising offensive cybercapabilities is not something the UK or other countries are eager to do without good reason, because it 'shows their hand,'" Chen said.
In an ultimatum to Russia, May demanded an explanation for the poisoning by the end of Tuesday and threatened to apply harsh response measures if a credible explanation from Russia did not follow.
Dr. Tanveer Zia, an associate professor in Computing at the Charles Sturt University, said that the United Kingdom would not consider a cyberattack before responding in an alternate way.
"In this particular scenario, the UK government is more likely to use diplomatic avenues instead of raging a cyberattack on Russia. I can think of two reasons for this. First, Russia’s cyberoffensive capabilities are well known and the UK has yet to demonstrate such capabilities. Secondly, it is against military tactics to announce an attack strategy," Zia said.
On Monday, May conducted talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, who agreed to address "aggressive Russian behavior" jointly and cooperate in the investigation into the incident.
May also consulted with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday on the Skripal case, and according to the German cabinet’s press service, both agreed to remain in close contact and jointly, hold consultations with allies and EU partners.
UK Capable of Cyberattack
According to The Times article, the Ministry of Defense and the Government Communications Headquarters are planning to accelerate and expand their offensive cybercapability, including the development of a joint malicious cyberprogram in the coming years.
"From cybersecurity perspectives, yes it is true that many advanced nations have developed offensive cyber capabilities," Zia said.
However, he noted that it was Russia, and not the United Kingdom, at the global forefront for its cybercapabilities.
On Tuesday, the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom said that the statements made by UK lawmakers about the possibility of a cyberattack conducted as a response to the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter are cause for serious concern. The embassy asked the United Kingdom to weigh the consequences of what would be an irresponsible decision.
Chen stated that the United Kingdom would be able to target Russian cyberinfrastructure, but the overwhelming priority for the United Kingdom would not be the adequacy of its capabilities, but the desire to do so.
"The UK has capability to attack infrastructure and other strategically select targets if it chose. But I think the issue here is now what the UK could do, but what the UK would want to do," Chen stated.
Russia has been in touch with the United Kingdom about the attack and remains open to cooperation with the investigation, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday. He noted that, however, Russia has not received any indication that the United Kingdom is willing to reciprocate this readiness to cooperate.
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