The United Kingdom will dedicate £22 million ($28 million USD) to underwrite a new cyber operations center to defend the nation against cyber attackers and possibly launch cyber offensives.
The move could signal the UK’s newfound willingness to counter cyber attacks on its critical infrastructure by returning fire to damage other countries' infrastructures and perhaps to launch preemptive strikes as well. UK Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt, in remarks to NATO ambassadors in London late last week, cautioned allies that the need to engage adversaries with cyber weapons has crested. "It is time to pay more than lip service to cyber," Mordaunt said (via Sky News). "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,” she said.
A location for the center has yet to be determined and officials didn’t indicate when one would be chosen. The facility is expected to be operational sometime next year. The unit will be set up to support overseas operations, humanitarian missions, and efforts to protect intra-country digital communications, according to the Sky News report. The center will also enable British intelligence and military officials to more effectively collaborate on cybersecurity threats and offensives, the report said.
Not Just Virtual Attacks?
Along those lines, Mordaunt said the UK 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."
It isn’t only Mordaunt pressing the cyber warfare clarion call. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in a speech last week, called out Russian cyber attackers as prime targets for the UK’s new “offensive hacking” scheme, a report in The Register said. Britain’s "primary goal," he said, is to make foreign state-backed hackers think twice before attacking UK targets. "We should be more emphatic about what we consider to be unacceptable behaviour and the consequences for any breach of international law."
Perhaps based on what the UK has seen from Russian meddling in U.S. elections, Hunt said that "recent events demonstrate that our adversaries regard democratic elections as a key vulnerability of an open society. If cyber interference were to become commonplace, the danger is that authoritarian states would damage public confidence in the very fabric of democracy."
Two months ago, Hunt vowed the government will step up international efforts to prevent overseas cyber-attacks on elections.