BRITISH power company bosses have reportedly been warned to boost their security amid fears of a targeted Russian cyber-attack.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) put the National Grid on alert last week and advised the utilities firm on how to improve its defences to prevent power cuts.
Officials have also warned other electricity, gas and water businesses as well as the Sellafield nuclear power plant, Whitehall departments and NHS hospitals.
The NCSC – a branch of intelligence agency GCHQ – are urging key organisations to prepare for a state-sponsored assault ordered by the Kremlin in the wake of the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.
A government security source told the Sunday Times: “They’re contacting all the critical national infrastructure operators. They’ve been in touch with National Grid with guidance.”
Paul Chichester, the NCSC director of operations, told the newspaper: “It is absolutely right that we give advice to sectors on defending themselves from cyber-attacks.
“We are vigilant to cyber-threats wherever they come from and are ready to defend against them.”
The agency has advised companies there could be attempts to steal taxpayers or patients’ data – or “denial of service” attacks which could hijack their websites.
It comes after Theresa May warned Russia that Britain is considering the “next steps” after Vladimir Putin booted out 23 British diplomats – in retaliation for the Prime Minister’s decision to evict 23 Russian spies.
May said she would “never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens” as a row over the poisoning of a former spy escalates.
Speaking at the Conservative Party’s spring forum, the PM added: “We can be reassured by the strong support we have received from our friends and allies around the world.”
She spoke after the Kremlin, which has given 23 British diplomats a week to leave their posts, decided to close the British Council in Russia and withdraw permission for the UK to open a general consulate in St Petersburg.
The measures were announced after Brit ambassador in Moscow Laurie Bristow was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry this morning amid a deepening row over the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “In light of Russia’s previous behaviour, we anticipated a response of this kind and the National Security Council will meet early next week to consider next steps. Our priority today is looking after our staff in Russia and assisting those that will return to the UK.
“Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter – the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable.
It is Russia that is in flagrant breach of international law and the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
They added: “We have no disagreement with the people of Russia and we continue to believe it is not in our national interest to break off all dialogue between our countries but the onus remains on the Russian state to account for their actions and to comply with their international obligations.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of personally ordering the poisoning of the Skripals, who remain hospitalised in critical condition after the March 4 attack.
Putin’s spokesman denounced the claim.
While Russia has vigorously denied involvement in the attack, Western powers see it as the latest sign of alleged Russian meddling abroad.
The tensions threaten to overshadow Putin’s expected re-election Sunday for another six-year presidential term.
Meanwhile new tensions have surfaced over the death this week of a London-based Russian businessman, Nikolai Glushkov.
Brit cops said Friday that he died from compression to the neck and opened a murder investigation.
Russia also says it suspects foul play in Glushkov’s death and opened its own inquiry Friday.
British police said there is no apparent link between the attack on Glushkov and the poisoning of the Skripals.
But both have raised alarm in the West at a time when Russia is increasingly assertive on the global stage and facing a probe into alleged interference in Donald Trump’s election as US president.
The source of the nerve agent – Soviet-made Novichok – is unclear, as is the way it was administered.
Russia has demanded that Britain share samples collected by investigators.
Top EU diplomats were expected to discuss next steps at a meeting Monday, with some calling for a boycott of the upcoming World Cup in Russia.