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EXCLUSIVE: Fears enemy state-sponsored hackers could target Tory and Labour party conferences


CYBER and counter terror cops are on red alert in case hackers working for enemy states try to disrupt the major political party conferences which start today.

There are fears that malevolent state-sponsored cyber criminals, or those working for terrorists, protest or organised crime groups or even a "lone wolf" operator could target either or both of the Tory and Labour Party conferences.

The Conservative event starts today in Manchester until Wednesday before the Labour Conference starts in Liverpool from next Sunday until October 11.

Conservative Central Office confirmed it is working with cyber spooks and police to prevent a hack attack that could shut down or disrupt its conference or steal party data.

There are fears that "weak links" in cyber security among third party suppliers to the events, could be used by hackers to disrupt or steal data.

DCI Chris Maddocks, (below) head of Economic and Cyber Crime at the North West Cyber Resilience Centre, said he and colleagues were using their experience of staving off similar threats to the Eurovision Song Contest held in Liverpool in May to plan for the conferences.

It was feared Russia may target the event due to it being hosted on behalf of Ukraine, but Mr Maddocks said months of planning saw the event pass off safely.

Speaking at the Emergency Services Show at Birmingham NEC on September 19, he said: "We have got both party conferences coming up in the north west so have been planning what our response and support looks like to those and it is not necessarily the actual event that would probably be the most risk, it is around the supply chain."

He highlighted a recent ransomware attack last month that affected 12,500 Greater Manchester Police officers and staff, which had hit Digital ID, one of the force's suppliers.

Mr Maddocks said one of the key risks to the conferences were their extensive supply chains as even if a bar or other supplier were impacted it could have a knock on effect on the whole event.

He said: "If you're giving shared information to an organisation, how certain are we that they will keep that secure?"

The Cyber Resilience Centre will be involved in the supply chains for the events and a police cyber alarm tool is likely to be used which alerts officers to any anonymous entities entering the cyber network so action can be taken.

Organisations from the GCHQ Cyber Security Centre and National Crime Agency (NCA), down to regional organised crime units. local police forces and the British Transport Police are involved in cyber security for the conferences, he said, after they successfully worked together on Eurovision.

It was feared that a state-sponsored threat from Russia was most likely given the event was being hosted for Ukraine in the UK.

He said: "We had not hosted (Eurovision) since a long time ago and there was a particular intelligence picture around Eurovision being hosted on behalf of Ukraine, so the state-sponsored risk was high."

A Tory Party spokesman said: "We are working in close partnership with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and Greater Manchester Police. We have robust processes in place to ensure a safe conference for all."

Labour did not respond.

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