SNP MP fears his emails were stolen by Russian spies

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A Scottish National Party (SNP) MP for Glasgow South has claimed his emails were stolen by Russian hackers and he feared they would be made public after he fell victim to a phishing scam. Stewart McDonald told the BBC the incident had occurred in early January when a hacking group believed to be linked to Russia’s intelligence services emailed him pretending to be a member of his staff.

After clicking on the document which was sent from the staff member’s actual email address, the MP entered his login details into a login page.

Several days later the same staff member informed Mr McDonald he had been locked out of his personal email account because of suspicious activity – and that he had never sent him the email with the login page.

Mr McDonald told the BBC he decided to go public to warn others of the risks and limit the potential damage as he waited to see what the hackers would do with the stolen material.

Mr McDonald, formerly his party’s defence spokesman and someone with a keen interest in Russia, said he is concerned about what may be done with personal emails that could have been taken from his account.

He told the BBC: “If it is indeed a malicious state-backed group, then, in line with what I’ve seen elsewhere, I expect them to dump some of the information online.

“I can expect them to manipulate and fake some of that content and I want to get out ahead of that to ensure any disinformation attack against me is discredited before it’s even published.

“It can catch people, even those who are alive to these threats.”

The incident came in the weeks after an advisory was issued by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a wing of the intelligence agency GCHQ, which warned of “spear-phishing attacks” – which are targeted at specific people using tailored content more likely to deceive – from actors in Russia and Iran.

The advisory did not explicitly say the groups – known as Seaborgium and TA453 – were backed by any government.

A spokesman for the NCSC said: “An incident has been reported to us and we are providing the individual with support.

“The NCSC regularly provides security briefings and guidance to parliamentarians to help them defend against the latest cyber threats. This includes expert advice for MPs and their staff available on the NCSC website.”

Secret agents working on behalf of Russia and other enemies still pose a threat to Britain with a senior espionage expert claiming the UK has been failing to protect itself.

Keir Giles, senior fellow at Chatham House, told it is “shocking” how open the UK is to Russian espionage campaigns. He noted it is still “perfectly legal” in the UK to be an agent “actively working” for a hostile power against Britain because of gaps in the law.

He said: “We should be used… to the idea that this is a country that will use any means it can to reach out and harm Western democracies and the people living in them.

“The real shock is how open those democracies remain to these [espionage] campaigns – in particular the way the UK is still not protecting itself against it from within on behalf of Russia or other adversaries.

“It’s still perfectly legal in the UK to be an agent of a hostile power actively working against your own country, which means there is nothing that can be done about that insider threat – and that should have changed long ago.”

Former MI6 agent Professor Julian Richards warned that Moscow is so proficient at snooping in the UK his colleagues “don’t know” how many spies are walking Britain’s streets. He suggested there could be cells of Russian agents who could kill at any moment.

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Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, 600 Russians have been expelled from European countries, 400 of which have been spies, according to British Intelligence services.

Many of these spies were using their roles as diplomats to gather secret information of Ukraine’s allies.

The former agent of 20 years told The Sun: “There could be a lot of them out there that we just don’t know about.

“Theoretically they could assassinate someone, if they needed to.”

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