Documents on the UK-US trade talks, leaked ahead of the 2019 election, were stolen from Tory MP Liam Fox’s personal email account, according to the BBC.
Sources revealed on Monday that the documents came from the former minister’s account, but not which address the hackers had targeted.
The articles were posted online and used by Labor as part of the 2019 campaign to claim the NHS would be in jeopardy.
It is not certain that Mr. Fox’s use of a personal account violated the rules.
According to the Cabinet Office opinion published in 2013, MPs have access to government messaging systems, but “other forms of electronic communication can be used in the context of government activities”.
A criminal investigation into the leakage of documents is underway, led by the National Crime Agency.
The BBC understands that the investigation has been ongoing for at least the end of last year.
The British government said the Russians were almost certainly seeking to interfere in the elections through documents.
A spokesperson for the National Crime Agency confirmed he was leading the investigation, but added that he could not say more.
Mr. Fox was Secretary of International Trade from July 2016 to July 2019.
Last month he was named as the UK government’s choice to head the World Trade Organization, although the new chief executive has yet to be appointed.
Reuters, which first reported the story on Monday, said hackers accessed Mr Fox’s account on multiple occasions between July 12 and October 21 last year.
On Tuesday, a source told the BBC’s Gordon Corera that the documents were stolen from Mr Fox’s personal account.
Reuters reported that all of the contents of Mr. Fox’s account were taken into account.
Responding to Monday’s story, a government spokesperson said: “A criminal investigation is underway into how the documents were acquired, and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this point.
“But as you can imagine, the government has put in place very robust systems to protect the IT systems of government officials and staff. “
Last month, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said the government had “reasonable confidence” that Russian actors had attempted to intervene in the December 2019 general election.
He told the BBC they had sought to “disseminate illegally obtained and disclosed government documents online” around trade talks between the UK and the US after the country left the EU.
Mr. Raab said the government “will reserve the right to take appropriate action” following the end of the criminal investigation.
The British government was later criticized in an Intelligence and Security Committee report – known as the “Russia Report” – for “grossly underestimating” the threat the country posed.
The mystery of “trade leaks” is slowly being revealed – but not yet fully.
The 2019 general election now appears to have been the target of a so-called ‘hack and flight’ operation, similar – but not on the same scale – to that launched by the Russian military intelligence services during the 2016 US presidential election.
Last month, the government said it believed Russian actors were responsible for disseminating the trade document on social media. But there was still the question of how it had been obtained for the first time.
Now we know it came from a hack into an email account owned by Liam Fox.
The exact identity of the Russian group behind the attack remains unclear.
Whether it was the same group that subsequently released the document is unclear and this group (codenamed Secondary Infektion) is not meant to be the same as the one behind the events of the US election, which had a greater impact.
Hackers in many countries have targeted politicians in recent years. But soon after the report on Russia, it will remind us that groups based in Russia are often the most adept not only at stealing, but also at using information.
Responding to reports of Mr. Fox’s email being hacked, a spokesperson for the National Cyber Security Center said Monday it was working closely with MPs and political parties to provide “the best cybersecurity advice and support ”.
“We have been working closely with political parties for several years on how to protect and defend against cyber attacks, including posting tips on our website.
“A criminal investigation is underway and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this point. “