February 7, 2023

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British lawmakers warned of cyber attacks and possible harassment by Iranian agents

Eureka News Now —

British lawmakers have been warned to be on the alert for cyberattacks and possible harassment by Iranian agents, according to correspondence sent to lawmakers in both the upper and lower chambers last month.

In letters dated Nov. 21 obtained by Eureka News Now, Speakers of the House of Commons and House of Lords reminded MPs to increase the security of their mobile devices.

The speakers said the police and intelligence services “have not detected any hostile Iranian activity specifically targeting parliamentarians.” Given the threats authorities say have been made against UK-based members of the Iranian diaspora “who are perceived as enemies of the regime…this is a good opportunity to remind you all to remain vigilant,” the letters read.

“The Iranian authorities have strong offensive cyber capabilities,” the letters added.

The correspondence is part of a growing chorus of warnings of possible actions by Iranian agents in the UK as tensions between the two countries rise.

Earlier this month, UK lawmakers received guidance on how to stop digital snooping. This guide recommended keeping phones outside of rooms during sensitive conversations, installing password managers, and using two-factor authentication systems when accessing email or securing phones.

“On November 1, we heard a statement from the Secretary of Security detailing the growing threats to our national security from hostile states and the government’s plan to lead a task force to advance work to defend our country’s democratic integrity,” he said Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, wrote to lawmakers on November 14.

“As recent events have shown, hostile states continue to target parliamentarians to gain insight into or influence our democratic processes for their economic, military or political gain,” he said.

Two days later, Ken McCallum, head of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5, said Iran had made at least 10 attempts to kidnap or even kill British nationals or anyone else on British soil, and was using increasingly aggressive tactics to target anyone it suspected that he is an enemy of the Iranian regime.

Speaking at MI5 headquarters, McCallum said Iran’s intelligence apparatus is a “sophisticated adversary” that sometimes uses its own agents or facilitators and is occasionally prepared to take what he called “reckless action”.

Two MPs told Eureka News Now they had started receiving spam emails about Iran, apparently from ad hoc groups seemingly protesting the Tehran regime. MEPs, who asked not to be named, said they received the emails in the past month.

Mass protests in Iran have drawn the attention of the country’s religious regime. The demonstrations were sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman in the custody of Tehran’s vice squad for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly.

Amid a crackdown on protesters in Iran, Britain has imposed financial and travel restrictions on two dozen Iranian officials. Iran has sanctioned several British lawmakers, including the country’s security minister.

Iranian security forces are said to have threatened journalists working in Britain. In November, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly invited Tehran’s top diplomat to the allegations and was quoted by Reuters at the time as saying he had made it clear “we will not tolerate threats to life and intimidation”.

This week, a senior Iranian official said the country’s hijab law was under review after months of women across the country taking off their hijab in defiance, according to the pro-reform newspaper Entekhab.

Under pressure from within, Iran, Russia and China are increasingly trying to export the influence of their autocracies elsewhere.

Last weekend, Eureka News Now reported that China had set up more than a hundred police stations abroad to monitor, harass, and sometimes bring back its citizens in exile, according to a report by human rights group Safeguard Defenders.

China’s Foreign Ministry has denied operating undeclared police stations overseas, saying such offices are staffed by volunteers to help expatriates with paperwork.

Earlier this year, Britain’s Lord Spokesman John McFall wrote to lawmakers warning them about the activities of Christine Lee, a UK-based lawyer with ties to Hong Kong, who they said had been involved in political interference activities for years by the Chinese Communist Party . Eureka News Now’s repeated requests for comment to Lee’s law firm have gone unanswered.

In his warning on the matter, McFall also warned his colleagues about the activities of Janusz Niedzwiecki, a Polish national, and Oleg Voloshyn, a Ukrainian, who he said had sided with Russia in the run-up to his invasion of Ukraine.

Niedzwiecki was arrested in Poland in 2021 and charged with espionage. Voloshyn, who is believed to be in Belarus, did not respond to Eureka News Now’s request for comment.

At the time, McFall said he was “taking the opportunity to remind colleagues of the range of activities undertaken by some foreign state actors against Parliament and Members that pose a security risk; whether through cyberattacks or more traditional espionage methods to gather information, exert influence or spread disinformation.”

A speaker of the UK Parliament declined to comment on details but said it takes lawmakers’ cyber and physical security “extremely seriously”.

They said in a statement to Eureka News Now, “We have taken robust action and are working closely with partners across government, including the National Cyber ​​Security Center. We advise users – including members of both chambers – to make them aware of the risks and management of their digital security, but do not comment on specific details of our cyber or physical security policies or incidents.”