The defence secretary has announced an investment of £22m to fund a new army cyber operations centre and told NATO allies they must become more comfortable engaging in offensive cyber operations against enemies.
Speaking to NATO ambassadors in London, Penny Mordaunt said “it is time to pay more than lip service to cyber”.
She said: “We know all about the dangers. Whether the attacks come from Russia, China or North Korea. Whether they come from hacktivists, criminals or extremists. Whether its malware or fake news. Cyber can bring down our national infrastructure and undermine our democracy.
“We must convince our adversaries their advances simply aren’t worth the cost. Cyber enemies think they can act with impunity. We must show them they can’t. That we are ready to respond at a time and place of our choosing in any domain, not just the virtual world.”
The new operations centre will be UK-based, although no location has been chosen yet.
They are likely to be used to support overseas operations, humanitarian missions, and efforts to protect UK digital communications on home soil. Operations are anticipated to begin by 2020.
Sky sources understand British intelligence and military officials have identified a ‘grey-area’ between the security services and military, and this is part of the strategy to fill that so the two arms of UK security can work better.
Speaking at the same gathering of NATO officials later this morning, the foreign secretary will accuse Russia of running a “global cyber campaign”.
“We judge that Russia’s intelligence services are targeting the critical national infrastructure of many countries in order to look for vulnerabilities,” Jeremy Hunt will say.
“This global campaign also seeks to compromise central government networks.”
Mr Hunt will disclose that in the last 18 months, the National Cyber Security Centre has shared information and assessments with 16 NATO allies of Russian cyber activity in their countries.
He will say: “Recent events demonstrate that our adversaries regard democratic elections as a key vulnerability of an open society. We must be crystal clear that any cyber operations designed to manipulate another country’s electoral system and alter the result would breach international law – and justify a proportionate response.
“Together, we possess options for responding to any attacks that fall below the threshold for Article V. We should be prepared to use them.”