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UK boosts spending on cyber army to launch hack attacks on enemies

The UK's Strategic Defence and Security Review earmarks more spending on cyber offensive capabilities.

UK chancellor George Osborne said: "We need to ensure that our military are equipped to fight the wars of the 21st century." Image: iStock

The UK government has provided more detail on its plans to build a capability for launching hacking attacks against aggressors around the world.

In its National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review published this week, the government said it will provide the armed forces with "advanced offensive r capabilities".

These capabilities will draw on the National Offensive Cyber Programme, a project run by the Ministry of Defence and the GCHQ surveillance agency.

The report said the UK will also invest in detecting and analysing cyber threats, and in its ability to "pre-empt attacks and track down those responsible".

In a speech at GCHQ earlier this month, UK chancellor George Osborne said: "We're building our own offensive cyber capability -- a dedicated ability to counter-attack in cyberspace."

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At the heart of UK plans is the National Offensive Cyber Programme, which harnesses the skills of GCHQ and the MoD "to deliver the tools, techniques and tradecraft required for the UK to establish a world-class capability," he said.

The government said it will "develop and improve this capability" over the next five years as part of a £1.9bn ($2.87bn) investment in cybersecurity.

Osborne said: "We need to ensure that our military are equipped to fight the wars of the 21st century. That means they need to be prepared for hybrid conflicts, played out in cyberspace as well as on the battlefield."

It's not the first time the UK has talked about developing the ability to launch hacking offensives against attackers: the UK has been developing cyberattack capabilities for a number of years now.

Back in 2013, the then-defence secretary Philip Hammond unveiled a £500m plan to "build in Britain a cyber strike capability, so we can strike back in cyberspace against enemies who attack us, putting cyber alongside land, sea, air and space as a mainstream military activity".

Nearly every country is developing a cyberdefence strategy, although only a small subset has the capability to launch a sustained campaign of cyberattacks.

In October 2010, the UK's National Security Council listed cyberattacks as one the top threats to the UK along with international terrorism, major accidents, natural disasters and international military crisis.

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