The Undeclared War
Saara, a second-year computer science student at London University, wins a highly sought-after work experience place at GCHQ. Her first day coincides with GCHQ’s stress-test of the security of telecommunications internet infrastructure, during which a significant part of the UK’s internet suddenly goes down. Initially thought to be a consequence of the stress test, it is soon shown to be the result of a more deliberate attack. Saara joins GCHQ’s Malware Department, charged with discovering how the virus was unleashed, and quickly finds herself operating on the invisible frontier of high-stakes cyber warfare.
Saara is put to work combing through the text in the virus, looking for passwords. It’s a monotonous job, likely to take days, but after many hours scrolling through, Saara finds a suspicious line of encrypted text within the code. Her colleagues think it’s unimportant, but Saara isn't convinced. She also gets more familiar with the players at GCHQ and makes some unlikely friends. With their help, Saara unravels a dubious invitation to rendezvous – but is she closer to the truth or just willingly entering a carefully baited trap?
Saara’s classmate Vadim Trusov (played by German Segal) returns to St Petersburg from university in London when all Russian students are told to leave the UK by Putin’s government. He reluctantly starts work at Glavset, a covert organisation which uses social media to influence public opinion in Britain. While there, Vadim meets Marina (played by Tinatin Dalakishvili) – a single mother with her own reasons for working on the inside of the propaganda machine. Initially hostile – Marina and Vadim become closer while Vadim falls victim to his own success. He is forced to use his talents as a coder to support Russia’s cyber warfare efforts at the secretive FSB. The more he understands about what they might be planning, the more uneasy he grows – leading him to taking an enormously dangerous risk.
Saara is in a difficult position after an exchange with a Russian whistle-blower, when her boss Danny (played by Simon Pegg), GCHQ Head of Operations, considers the interaction could just as easily be a deliberately engineered provocation. Meanwhile, Marina leaves Glavset to start work at ‘Russia Global News’, an outlet based in London. Information is leaked which puts a friend of Saara’s in grave danger, and her relationship with Kathy becomes more complicated.
Looking for an ally outside the system, she visits elderly analyst and iconoclast John Yeabsley (played by Mark Rylance) at his house who provides an unexpected perspective.
Signs of irregularity in the UK General Election results prompt political unrest – and GCHQ staffers are hit with a massive curveball that puts their intelligence cooperation with the United States in jeopardy. Amidst the protests – John Yeabsley makes a stunning declaration. GCHQ looks increasingly compromised as security barriers are breached which should be watertight, and Saara watches the damage intensity, while still trying to decipher the malware at the heart of it.
The situation escalates as the truth about John’s involvement in the data leak becomes clear. Saara and Gabriel (played by Alfie Friedman) work together to understand the full ramifications of the code which continued to amass data, after the telecommunications internet stress test. Danny experiences first-hand the damage caused to GCHQ’s relationship with the NSA. Information comes to light which could be of paramount importance to national security, but equally could be another tactic to escalate the conflict with Russia. Caught in an impossible bind – Saara’s old classmate reaches out with a game-changing offer.