The UK’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) last night announced the formation of a new Joint Cyber Unit with offensive capabilities.
In a move certain to unnerve the United Kingdom’s partners in the European Union who are still reeling from revelations concerning extensive snooping allegedly carried out by America’s National Security Agency (NSA) and its British equivalent, the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), on various European institutions and companies, UK Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond, committed Britain to building a dedicated capability to counter-attack in cyberspace.
The MoD also said new capabilities would also include going on the offensive in cyberspace as part of the UK’s “full-spectrum military capability”.
According to the Daily Mail, the cost of setting up the new cyber strike force could be as high as £500 million (about $800 million) over the next few years. As part of this new sphere of warfare and counter-measures, the MoD intends recruiting hundreds of what it terms “cyber reservists” as computer experts charged with defending the national security of the UK and “working at the cutting edge of the nation's cyber defenses.”
Confirming the creation of a new Joint Cyber Reserve Unit, within which reservists will work alongside the UK’s regular armed forces to protect critical computer networks and safeguard vital data, the defense secretary said, "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 defense 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 cyberspace.”
Hammond added, in language reminiscent of an IT recruitment agency, “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."
Part of the new British Joint Cyber Reserve will support a section of the Joint Cyber Unit stationed at MOD Corsham in Wiltshire. During World War II, MOD Corsham served as a massive underground complex, part munitions depot, part the world’s largest underground factory. Later the network of tunnels became an emergency relocation site for the UK government and where numerous communications bunkers were located.
The Joint Cyber Reserve will also provide support to the Joint Cyber Unit at the UK’s intelligence hub GCHQ, Cheltenham.
GCHQ has recently been at the eye of the storm involving allegations of NSA spying brought to light by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who has since been granted temporary asylum in Russia. Some of the recent documents leaked by Snowden claim to show that the GCHQ was behind a cyber attack against Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian telecoms company.
Speaking to the Daily Mail in support of the formation of the Joint Cyber Reserve in the face of concern over deep cuts in the UK's defensive capability elsewhere, Hammond cast a historical perspective to describe the new cyber defense initiative.
The defense secretary said, “Military capability doesn’t stand still. You cannot fossilize it. As much as we love and cherish our military traditions, the defense of the nation means we must spend money on the capabilities of tomorrow, not yesterday. I’m sure a healthy debate raged 100 years ago about whether to invest in new-fangled tanks and stop buying hay for the horses. Some will have said, 'Buy more hay, not tanks.'"
Recruiting for the UK’s new Joint Cyber Reserve starts in October, drawing recruits from three areas: Regular personnel leaving the armed forces; current and former reservists with the necessary skills; and individuals with no previous military experience, but possessing the necessary technical knowledge, skills and experience for work in a highly-specialized area.