Security measures are being put in place to prevent any attempt by Russia or other foreign powers to carry out a cyber attack during the upcoming general election.
The National Cyber Security Centre will coordinate the operation to safeguard Government departments as well as political parties.
The Independent reported in February that parties had sought help from security agencies following cyber attacks during the 2015 election and the alleged hacking of Democratic Party emails by Vladimir Putin’s government to help Donald Trump win the US presidential election.
Ciaran Martin, the head of the National Cyber Security Centre, subsequently held talks with political parties at the end of last month on safeguarding their data and electronic communications.
The real extent of Kremlin interference in UK domestic politics remains unclear. The Commons Public Accounts Committee said in a report earlier this month that a hostile foreign power may have been behind the crashing of a voter registration website in the run-up to last year’s Brexit referendum.
However, the security agencies, The Independent has learned, concluded the crash was due to technical reasons. The Cabinet Office confirmed that “it was due to a spike in users just before the registration deadline. There is no evidence to suggest malign intervention”.
But security sources say that there was a “pattern of acts” by foreign hackers in the run-up to the 2015 election which caused concern. The agencies have been monitoring claims of foreign propaganda and cyber activities in elections abroad since the US presidential vote.
The cyber-security operation for the British election will range from offering advice to ministries, political parties and other organisations involved with the polling and ensuring they have adequate electronic security measures in place.
There have been increasing allegations of Russian interference, overt and covert, in the French election campaign. Emmanuel Macron, the centrist and strongly pro-European Union candidate, has complained of being repeatedly targeted by a foreign power.
Richard Ferrand, the head of his party, held that “fake news” has been circulated about the candidate and his campaign has faced “thousands” of cyber attacks.
And Mr Macron’s digital campaign manager, Mounir Mahjoubi, said: “We are the victim of targets of hackers on our servers. We have been the subject of multiple attempts of hacking but have succeeded in stopping them all.
“The ideas of a more open Europe, of a stronger Europe, of a more progressive France, these ideas for certain countries in the world are ideas to fight against.”
At the same time candidates who are sympathetic to Russia have received help.
Marine Le Pen travelled to Moscow to meet Mr Putin, for whom she has repeatedly professed admiration, and her far-right Front National party has received millions of pounds in loans from Russian banks.
The collapsing campaign of François Fillon, mired in scandal over payment of public money to his family, received a totally unexpected boost last month in the opinion polls, which showed that he was the suddenly in the lead.
This was, however, fake news, an “alternative fact”. Mr Fillon, too, is a fan of Mr Putin and the made-up poll appeared in Sputnik, a Russian state-funded news organisation.
The Russians have consistently denied any illicit activity. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed: “We didn’t have and do not have any intention of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, or in their electoral processes in particular.
“That there is a hysterical anti-Putin campaign in certain countries abroad is an obvious fact.”