The website “Very English Coop d’Etat” was set up to publish private emails of Brexit supporters, according to a Google cybersecurity official and former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service. Former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove, senior Brexit advocate Gisela Stewart, and pro-Brexit historian Richard Toomes were among those who sent emails to the site.
Two leak victims confirmed to Reuters that they had been targeted by hackers, blaming the Russian government.
According to Shane Huntley, who runs Google’s threat analysis group, the “English Coop” website is linked to a Russian hacking group called Cold River (aka Coldriver or Callisto). “We were able to identify this through technical indicators,” he claimed, adding that every step of the operation, from the Cold River breach to the publication of leaks, had a “clear technical link.”
Callisto was described as a sophisticated threat actor engaging in intelligence gathering relating to European foreign and security policy by Finland’s F-Secure Labs in 2019.
Dearlove, who oversaw MI6 from 1999 to 2004, said of the email service ProtonMail, “I’m well aware of Russia’s efforts against the Proton account, which had emails to and from me.” Most of the stolen emails appear to be sent using ProtonMail.
Due to the current special context of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Durlov said the emails should be handled “with caution”. He argued that the emails captured “legitimate lobbying that is now distorted through this antagonistic lens”.
The emails appear to have been sent in 2018. It’s unknown how Cold River received the emails, and the English Coop website has made no attempt to identify the perpetrators. Reuters noted that most of the emails appear to be primarily Exchange using a ProtonMail account.
If the leaks are true, it would mark the second time in three years that Kremlin spy suspects have stolen the private emails of top British national security officials and posted them online.
Sensitive US-UK trade data was taken from the email account of former trade minister Liam Foxx and exposed ahead of the 2019 UK general election. Details of the operation were never confirmed by British authorities, but then-Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said the hacking and leaks were an attempt by the Kremlin to interfere in the British election – an accusation that Moscow disputes.
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