Boris Johnson's £16.5 billion push ramps up UK's offensive cyber capabilities

The £16.5 billion funding announced by Prime Minister on Thursday includes a ramping up of the UK’s cyber capabilities to disrupt terrorists, hostile state activities and criminals through a coordinated multi-agency force.

Releasing details of the cyber push, officials said the UK has been a world-leader on offensive cyber operations, with intelligence agency GCHQ pioneering the use and development of cyber techniques: in 2016, operations were conducted against ISIS, whose propaganda operations were degraded by 2018, among others.

Johnson announced the setting up of a new National Cyber Force (NCF), which includes personnel from GCHQ, the Ministry of Defence, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory under one unified command for the first time.

Officials said that used alongside diplomatic, economic, political and military capabilities, examples of cyber operations could include interfering with a mobile phone to prevent a terrorist from being able to communicate with their contacts; and keeping UK military aircraft safe from targeting by hostile weapons systems.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said after Johnson’s announcement in the House of Commons: “The world relies on cyberspace more than ever so it’s vital we have the right tools in place to ensure the online world is prosperous and secure for all”.

“The UK’s new National Cyber Force is a world-leading force for good, capable of conducting targeted, responsible cyber operations to protect our national security”.

The officials added that the UK is committed to using cyber capabilities in a responsible way and in line with UK and international law. Past and future cyber operations have and will continue to operate under existing laws, including those granted by the Intelligence Services Act and the Investigatory Powers Act.

General Patrick Sanders of Strategic Command, which leads on cyber, intelligence, special forces and information capabilities for Defence, said: “Just over 100 years ago we created a new force to defend the UK from threats in a new domain – the air”.

“Today’s announcement of the formation of the National Cyber Force to defend the UK in cyberspace marks a similar milestone and the imperative is just as vital because cyberspace is the most contested domain where our adversaries and our allies will meet over the next decade and beyond”.

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