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Five Eyes alliance agrees to work together to combat Covid-19 cyber attacks

The Five Eyes intelligence alliance has come together to combat a surge in disinformation and state-sponsored cyber attacks triggered by the coronavirus crisis.

In a meeting of the alliance earlier this week, the home affairs and security ministers of its member states – the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – explored plans to mitigate the threats.

There has been a rise in coronavirus-related ransomware and phishing attacks in recent weeks, with cyber criminals and state-sponsored hackers targeting both individuals and organisations. Coronavirus researchers in the UK and US are among those to have been targeted, according to security officials on both sides of the Atlantic.

The ministers who attended the meeting on Wednesday, which was co-chaired by the home secretary Priti Patel, “agreed on the need to share intelligence around these kinds of scams and work closely to stop them”, according to a government statement.

The ministers also raised concerns about tech companies’ failure to swiftly tackle a rise in online child abuse during the pandemic. “The Five Country partners were clear that technology companies need to work quickly and go further to address the issues that continue to leave children vulnerable to predators online,” the government said.

Patel said: “These are unprecedented times and now more than ever it is important we continue to work with our closest allies to protect our citizens. I was pleased to speak with my ‘Five Eyes’ colleagues yesterday to discuss the shared threats we are facing and how we will work together to tackle them.”

The display of solidarity comes at a time when relations in the alliance have been frayed over the ongoing dispute surrounding Huawei. The US has warned that it may have to curtail how much intelligence it shares with the UK if it does not remove the Chinese telecoms equipment vendor from its telecoms networks.

However some experts have raised questions about the seriousness of such threats given the extent to which the US depends on GCHQ for its intelligence gathering operations.