GCHQ has launched a cyber operation to disrupt disinformation around vaccines being spread by Russia and other hostile states, it has been reported.
False information about vaccines has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, with Russia identified as one of the main spreaders of such content.
According to Lucy Fisher in the Times, the UK spy agency is now using tools developed to stop material created by Islamic State from spreading against anti-vaccine propaganda.
“GCHQ has begun an offensive cyber-operation to disrupt anti-vaccine propaganda being spread by hostile states, The Times understands. The spy agency is using a toolkit developed to tackle disinformation and recruitment material peddled by Islamic State, according to sources.
It is the latest move by cyberagents to counter activity linked to Moscow whose aim is to exploit the pandemic in order to undermine the West and boost Russian interests. The government regards tackling false information about inoculation as a rising priority as the prospect of a reliable vaccine against the coronavirus draws closer.”
The report also cites a government source as saying:
“GCHQ has been told to take out antivaxers online and on social media. There are ways they have used to monitor and disrupt terrorist propaganda.”
Russia has been linked to a number of malicious activities online associated with coronavirus. Earlier in the year, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace committed to supporting NATO’s efforts to combat COVID-19 in a video conference with Allied defence ministers.
NATO defence ministers met over video conference where they discussed how the Alliance can continue to protect its almost one-billion citizens during the COVID-19 crisis. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace reaffirmed the UK’s support for NATO’s role in the international response to the crisis and committed to examining all requests for assistance from Allies.
“One current priority is combating the spread of harmful, false and misleading narratives through disinformation. To bolster this effort, the British Army will be deploying two experts in countering disinformation. They will advise and support NATO in ensuring its citizens have the right information to protect themselves and its democracies are protected from malicious disinformation operations used by adversaries. NATO can play a key role in the international fight against COVID-19, and Allied solidarity is more important than ever to ensure both the security and the health of our almost one-billion citizens.”
Earlier this month, the NCSC also revealed it had protected the UK from more than 700 cyber attacks over the last 12 months, more than a quarter of which were linked to coronavirus.