Russian hackers did interfere in the UK general election last year and are actively trying to steal covid vaccine research from western labs, the government has admitted.

In a dramatic turn of events Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has claimed that documents detailing UK-US trade talks posted online during the general election were “amplified” by Russian actors.

The statement from the Foreign Secretary came as western intelligence powers accused Russian state-backed hackers of actively trying to steal covid vaccine research.

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The UK government, alongside US and Canadian intelligence agencies, publicly named a Russian cyber group APT29 as being behind persistent attempts to steal data that could lead to a coronavirus vaccine.

In a co-ordinated move the UK, USA and Canada named the APT29 group, known as Cozy Bears, for trying to hack material from research companies.

The developments came as MPs on the newly convened  parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee confirmed they would release a long-awaited report into Russian influence operations into the UK.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman branded as “nonsense” claims that Downing Street was releasing the information ahead of the report in an attempt to look tough on Russia.

The PM’s spokesman said: “This is about making sure that Russia knows we will call out any hack or attack on those who are doing vital coronavirus work.”

The statement from Raab backs up earlier research which suggested that the leaked report on US-UK trade talks began circulating after being pushed by figures in Russia, although not explicitly the Russian government.

The Labour leader said references to access to health services in the documents meant the NHS was for sale after Brexit.

There is no suggestion Labour was involved in illegally acquiring documents in first place.

In a written statement Raab said: “On the basis of extensive analysis, the Government has concluded that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 General Election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked Government documents.

“Sensitive Government documents relating to the UK-US Free Trade Agreement were illicitly acquired before the 2019 General Election and disseminated online via the social media platform Reddit.”

He added: “Whilst there is no evidence of a broad spectrum Russian campaign against the General Election, any attempt to interfere in our democratic processes is completely unacceptable. It is, and will always be, an absolute priority to protect our democracy and elections.”

No 10 confirmed that a criminal investigation is ongoing into the acquisition of the document.

The statement follows the formation of the new parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

At it first meeting, the ISC agreed that it would publish a long-awaited report into Russian interference in UK politics drawn up by its predecessor committee before the last election before Parliament breaks next week for the summer.

Simultaneously the UK National Cyber Security Centre accused the Russian state of actively attempting to steal scientific research into a coronavirus vaccine to be first in the race for a cure.

This assessment is supported by Canadian and US Homeland Security services

The NCSC assessment is that APT29, also named “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear” almost certainly operate as part of Russian Intelligence Services.

The cyber security agencies accused APT29 of ongoing malicious activity predominantly against government, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy targets to steal valuable intellectual property.

Paul Chichester, NCSC Director of Operations, said: “We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“Working with our allies, the NCSC is committed to protecting our most critical assets and our top priority at this time is to protect the health sector.

“We would urge organisations to familiarise themselves with the advice we have published to help defend their networks.”

APT 29 are well known and tracked in the cyber security world and were fingered for hacks against the US Democrats party in 2016 to mine material which was damaging to Hilary Clinton’s presidential bid.

It is the first time the UK  have been called out the group which intelligence sources described as “long-standing and capable adversaries”.