Britain creates counter-attack cyber unit

The U.K. government will follow in the footsteps of the U.S. and create a military unit dedicated to launching counter-attacks against hackers.

The U.K. government is planning to recruit hundreds of computer specialists to defend core infrastructure against cyberthreats, Conservative Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said on Sunday.

credit cnet
Credit: CNET

According to Reuters, speaking at the annual Conservative party conference, Hammond said the United Kingdom was dedicating additional resources and funds to building a strong cyber intelligence and surveillance network.

As cybercrime continues to prove a lucrative way for hackers to steal valuable data for profit or as part of state-sponsored jobs -- and many governments struggle to catch up and protect networks adequately against rising attacks -- defense budget funds now need to not only consider physical threats, but digital warfare. Hammond commented:

"Last year our cyber defenses blocked around 400,000 advanced malicious cyber threats against the government's secure internet alone, so the threat is real. 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."

In February, the National Audit Office named "addressing the U.K.'s current and future ICT and cybersecurity skills gap" as a "key challenge.". The NAO report was published as part of the U.K.'s £650m Cyber Security Strategy scheme, and said it could take "20 years" to address the skills gap at all levels of education.

Not only could a dedicated taskforce of offensive security experts deter hackers in the future, but the Defence Secretary told the Mail on Sunday that cyberstrikes could work "alongside conventional weapons in future conflicts," disabling communications, nuclear weapons, ships and critical hardware.

To establish the new cybersecurity force, the U.K. will recruit experts in their hundreds from a number of fields. The recruitment drive will include civilian computer experts who will be part of the "Joint Cyber Reserve," and their role will be to work alongside members of the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ to protect critical infrastructure and prevent data theft.

The cost of the program was not disclosed, but recruitment is due to begin in October.

Hammond commented:

"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. The cyber reserves will be an essential part of ensuring we defend our national security in cyber-space. 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."

The U.K. is also seeking ways to train up the next generation of cyberspecialists. In May, two U.K. universities -- Oxford University and Royal Holloway University -- were granted £7.5m in funding to help develop the country's skills in online security. Apprenticeships in cybersecurity are also due to be offered this year by E-Skills, the U.K.'s sector skills council for business and information technology.