Defence secretary Gavin Williamson has warned an attack on UK infrastructure could cause “thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths”.
Williamson, who became defence secretary last November, said Russia had been spying on the UK’s critical infrastructure, including underwater electricity, gas and water connections with continental Europe, which could cause “total chaos” if damaged.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Williamson said: “[Russia] are going to be thinking, ‘How can we just cause as much pain to Britain?’
“Damage its economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths, but actually have an element of creating total chaos within the country.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said the department had nothing to add to the minister’s statement.
Russian authorities have dismissed the allegations.
Williamson’s statements echo a report by the Policy Exchange, a think tank, last December that warned underwater internet cables connecting the UK to the rest of the web were also at risk from sabotage from foreign countries or terrorists.
Separately, a report this week by insurance firm Lloyd’s warned the failure of one of the top cloud services could cost the US economy $15bn.
Cloud services include software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service provisions.
If a top-three cloud provider were to go offline for three to six days, the losses to the economy would be between $6.9bn and $14.7bn, plus up to $2.8bn in additional insurance costs, the report said. Similar downtime from a smaller cloud provider, from 10th to 15th in size by market share, could still cause up to $2.1bn in losses.
Trevor Maynard, head of innovation at Lloyd’s, said: “Clouds can fail or be brought down in many ways, ranging from malicious attacks by terrorists to lighting strikes, flooding or simply a mundane error by an employee.
“Whatever the cause, it is important for businesses to quantify the risks they are exposed to as failure to do so will not only lead to financial losses but also potentially loss of customers and reputation.”
The report, compiled in partnership with risk modeller AIR Worldwide, said the manufacturing sector would see the greatest economic losses ($8.6bn), followed by the wholesale and retail trade sector ($3.6bn), information sector ($847m), finance and insurance ($447m) and transportation and warehousing (439m).
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.