A government minister has said he is confident that Britain’s national security has not been compromised by a hoax that managed to reach two of the most senior members of the Cabinet.
An inter-Whitehall security investigation has been launched after Home Secretary Priti Patel and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace were targeted in what ministers believe was a Russian plot.
The alarm was raised by Mr Wallace after he became suspicious during a 10-minute video call on Microsoft Teams on Thursday, supposedly with the Prime Minister of Ukraine.
He has ordered an investigation into the security breach, but serious questions remain over Whitehall security after Ms Patel said the same thing happened to her earlier in the week.
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said Mr Wallace was “very angry” because it should not have happened.
But he said he was confident the Defense Secretary and Ms Patel would have known not to discuss sensitive security issues on a system such as Teams that the Russians could easily eavesdrop.
“Ben’s suspicions were aroused when someone, if they were who they claimed to be, would have known very well that you weren’t discussing military moves in Teams because the Russians were watching,” Mr Heappey said. on BBC Radio 4 Today.
“Priti, like Ben, deals day in and day out with national security issues. When you deal with subjects as sensitive as these large state offices, you instinctively feel what to say about each means of communication.
“I’m confident Priti would have known she was on a Teams call. Regardless of the length, the content would have been appropriate for a Teams call.
Mr Wallace said he grew suspicious and ended the call after “several misleading questions”.
The PA news agency understands he was connected to the video call which lasted about 10 minutes by officials, rather than being called directly on his phone.
Ms Patel later revealed she had also been targeted, although the Home Office declined to give further details.
Mr Wallace went public over fears that Russia would try to distort images or audio material from the call for propaganda purposes.
The video call was set up after an email, allegedly from a Ukrainian embassy aide, was sent to a government department and then forwarded to the Defense Ministry.
The Defense Secretary was put in touch with the “Ukrainian Prime Minister”, posing with the country’s flag behind him.
After initial introductions and thanks for UK support, Mr Wallace reportedly grew suspicious when the man began asking questions about UK politics and eventually urged the Defense Secretary to shout slogans.
The level of sophistication involved in the hoax convinced government sources that it was a Russian plot.