GCHQ spies 'tackling covid anti-vaccine propaganda linked to Russia online'

GCHQ spies are believed to be in a cyberwar tackling online covid anti-vaccine propaganda linked to Russia, a Govt source had revealed.

The UK's communication headquarters is said to be using a toolkit to track disinformation spread by hostile states used in a bid to undermine a much needed covid vaccine.

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It appears to be the latest push by cyber agents to tackle the misleading information that has been linked to Moscow after Russian fake news outlet's bizarre claims that the Oxford vaccine turned people into monkeys.

GCHQ spooks are said to be focusing on taking down state-linked content and those responsible for it by encrypting their data so they cannot access it as well as blocking communication between the cyber actors.

The government source told The Times: "GCHQ has been told to take out anti-vaxxers online and on social media. There are ways they have used to monitor and disrupt terrorist propaganda."

A similar strategy was used back in 2018 by the British government to tackle ISIS propaganda, using malware to block jihadi's access to data.

Russia is thought to be behind a large amount of the misleading content placed online in a bid to push its own Sputnik vaccine and undermine the West, a Whitehall source revealed.

GCHQ is however only legally allowed to remove anti-vaccine disinformation linked to states and not that uploaded by ordinary citizens.

The source added: "You wouldn’t get authorisation to go after cranks. People have a right to say batshit stuff online."

In addition to GCHQ’s efforts, a secret army unit specialising in information warfare is involved in tackling fake narratives about coronavirus.

Tackling these state-linked threats does depend on the location of the servers connected to the content as it is understood that the HQ cannot attack websites in the Five Eyes group known as US, Austalia, Canada and New Zealand.

The Five Eyes alliance is an intelligence-sharing agreement between the countries that monitors the online activity of internet users.

RUSSIAN HACKERS

Russia fake news media outlets flooded the internet with memes and social media posts suggesting the UK's Oxford vaccine, which is still being developed, could turn people into monkeys last month.

The bizarre images showed Boris Johnson walking into Downing Street as a 'bigfoot' while another showed a chimpanzee in a lab coat from pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca – who is manufacturing the Oxford vaccine.


Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb also slammed the outrageous claims as scare stories that could cost lives.

Mr Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s a shabby piece of disinformation, but it is very serious because it is an attempt to disrupt the attempts to find a safe vaccine.

“We know that Russia has a track record of using disinformation as a foreign policy tool.

"But actually any attempt to spread lies about Covid-19, and the vaccine in particular, when we’re trying to come together as an international community to resolve a global pandemic is utterly deplorable."

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of Astrazenca, told The Times: “Misinformation is a clear risk to public health.

"I urge everyone to use reliable sources of information, to trust regulatory agencies and to remember the enormous benefit vaccines and medicines continue to bring to humanity."

Russia has also been accused of launching a cyberattack on the Oxford labs to try and obtain western intellectual property.

British intelligence officials were concerned that the hackers would try and spread their disinformation through the attacks.

Russia announced in August that they had produced the world's first covid vaccine with Putin revealing that his own daughter had been given the jab.

However many experts disputed the Sputnik V vaccine, saying it had not been through enough adequate testing.

Prof Francois Balloux, a biologist at University College London, called Putin's move "reckless and foolish" and said that "vaccination with an improperly tested vaccine is unethical". 

 

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