The UK government is building a ‘toolbox’ of cyber weapons to use in the fight against potential cyberattacks on the country’s critical services and government departments, defence minister Nick Harvey has revealed.
According to the Guardian, Harvey considers cyber weapons to be an “integral part of the country’s armoury” and that “action in cyberspace will form part of the future battlefield” in a world where digital infrastructures are becoming increasingly widespread.
Harvey’s acknowledgment of a cyber weapons programme follows a number of high-profile attacks on government agencies and contractors worldwide.
Chancellor George Osborne recently said that hundreds of attempts were made to hack into the Treasury’s computer system last year, averaging at least one a day, while the Norwegian military admitted to being hit by a potentially serious targeted cyberattack in March. Defence and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin also last week acknowledged that its information systems network had been a target of a "significant and tenacious attack".
“We need a toolbox of capabilities and that’s what we are currently developing,” Harvey told the Guardian. “The circumstances and manner in which we would use them are broadly analogous to what we would do in any other domain.”
He continued: “Cyber is a new domain but the rules and norms, the logic and the standards that operate in any other domain...translate across into cyberspace.
"The consequences of a well planned, well executed attack against our digital infrastructure could be catastrophic … With nuclear or biological weapons, the technical threshold is high. With cyber the finger hovering over the button could be anyone from a state to a student."
Harvey did not say where the cyberattacks could come from, but he did highlight China as a country that is developing “modern militaries and modern technologies”.
“It would be foolish to assume the west can always dictate the pace and direction of cyber technology,” he said.
The Cyber Security Operations Centre at GCHQ and the Cabinet Office are understood to be leading the development of the cyber weapons programme. Major General Jonathan Shaw has already been appointed to lead the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Cyber Operations Group over the next four years.
As part of last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, prime minister David Cameron confirmed that the government would allocate £650 million over a four-year period to fight against cyber attacks. The government also detailed cybercrime as a ‘tier one’ risk to Britain, alongside terrorism, international crises and natural hazards.