Russia Country said to be engaging in cyber attacks on UK

The criticism was rejected by Russia's foreign ministry, which accused May of trying to distract the British public from problems at home.

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Theresa May has accused Moscow of seeking to "sow discord in the West play

Theresa May has accused Moscow of seeking to "sow discord in the West

(AFP/File)
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Russia has launched cyber attacks on the UK media, telecoms and energy sectors in the past year, Britain's cyber security chief will say Wednesday amid reports of Russian interference in the Brexit referendum.

"Russia is seeking to undermine the international system. That much is clear," Ciaran Martin, head of Britain's National Cyber Security Centre will say at a London tech conference, according to extracts released by his office in advance of the speech.

"Russian interference, seen by the National Cyber Security Centre over the past year, has included attacks on the UK media, telecommunications and energy sectors," Martin was expected to say.

"The PM (Prime Minister Theresa May) made the point on Monday night -- international order as we know it is in danger of being eroded."

The centre has responded to more than 590 significant incidents since its launch in 2016, although the government agency has not detailed which were linked to Russia.

Martin's comments come after scathing criticism of Russia from May, who accused Moscow of "seeking to weaponise information" and "sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions".

Russia's cyber activities include "deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images", she said Monday in an address to the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London.

The criticism was rejected by Russia's foreign ministry, which accused May of trying to distract the British public from problems at home.

Moscow's alleged attempts to influence last year's referendum on European Union membership are part of an investigation under way in London.

British parliament's digital, culture, media and sport committee has requested data from Twitter and Facebook on Russia-linked accounts and aims to interview social media executives at the British embassy in Washington early next year.

Pro-Brexit 'bots'

Damian Collins, the committee chairman, said it is "beyond doubt" that Russia has interfered in UK politics.

"I think we have to recognise foreign organisations have the ability to manipulate social media platforms to target voters abroad," he told AFP.

"We have to recognise it is one of the biggest threats our democracies face and we have to be serious about combatting it," Collins added.

Researchers at Swansea University in Wales and the University of California, Berkeley, have found more than 150,000 Russian-based Twitter accounts which may have influenced the Brexit referendum.

The social media accounts switched their attention to European Union membership in the run-up to the referendum on June 23, 2016, according to research outlined in The Times newspaper.

Many of the accounts were fully-automated "bot" profiles which posted hundreds of tweets daily, or "cyborg" accounts which were partially run by people, the newspaper said.

The majority of the posts were pro-Brexit, while some supported remaining in the European Union.

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