The Secretary of State for Defence said yesterday that Britain will create a new cyber unit which will be known as the Joint Cyber Reserve. Phillip Hammond said that the new unit, believed to be costing around £500m, will be tasked primarily with defending the UK against cyber attacks but will also have the capability to launch strikes where deemed necessary.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) will be looking to employ hundreds of IT experts who will be responsible for defending the nation’s critical data and computer networks. The recruitment procedure will begin next month with the department looking for expertise amongst existing armed forces personnel, reservists and civilians who have the relevant skillsets. The new Joint Cyber Reserve will provide support to existing units in Corsham and Cheltenham as well as to other MoD operational groups.

“Last year our cyber defences blocked around 400,000 advanced malicious cyber threats against the government’s secure internet alone, so the threat is real,” said Hammond as he spoke to delegates at the Conservative’s annual conference, “But simply building cyber defenses is not enough: as in other domains of warfare, we also have to deter. Britain will build a dedicated capability to counterattack in cyberspace and if necessary to strike in cyberspace.”

The Secretary did not give any detail as to who is attacking Britain’s computer networks though it is widely believed that attacks may have originated from Russia and China.

“In response to the growing cyber threat, we are developing a full-spectrum military cyber capability, including a strike capability, to enhance the UK’s range of military capabilities. Increasingly, our defence budget is being invested in high-end capabilities such as cyber and intelligence and surveillance assets to ensure we can keep the country safe,” said Hammond.

“The Cyber Reserves will be an essential part of ensuring we defend our national security in cyberspace. This is an exciting opportunity for internet experts in industry to put their skills to good use for the nation, protecting our vital computer systems and capabilities,” he added.

Speaking to the Daily Mail Hammond said that “clinical cyber strikes” could be used to disable key military assets such as nuclear and chemical weapons, enemy communications and other tools of war. This, he said, could help Britain avoid the traditional forms of warfare and allow for battles that had zero cost in terms of human lives; a dream come true for politicians no doubt.

Cyber crimes and nation state attacks have become much more prevalent in recent years. In a written statement last December Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude wrote that, “93% of large corporations and 76% of small businesses had a cyber security breach in the past year,” and that the costs of said breaches were, “estimated between £110,000-250,000 for large businesses and £15,000-30,000 for smaller ones.”

Government documents have also spoken of foreign powers looking to, “conduct espionage with the aim of spying on or compromising our government, military, industrial and economic assets as well as monitoring opponents of their regime.”

Mr. Hammond said that, “You deter people by having an offensive capability. We will build in Britain a cyber strike capability so we can strike back in cyber space against enemies who attack us, putting cyber alongside land, sea, air and space as a mainstream military activity.”

Only time will tell how effective the new Joint Cyber Reserve unit is and I, for one, am curious to see if their role remains mainly defensive in nature or whether the opposite is true (not that we would ever know!)

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