The government is planning to build a force dedicated to defending Britain in cyberspace, and said it will not rule out striking if necessary.
Hundreds of military reserves will be signed up to join the Joint Cyber Reserve from next month. The recruits will work with existing forces to protect critical networks and safeguard vital data, defence secretary Philip Hammond said.
He added that its new force marks the establishment of the fifth domain of the military after land, sea, air and space.
"In response to the growing cyberthreat, we are developing a full-spectrum military cyber capability, including a strike capability, to enhance the UK's range of military capabilities," he said. "Increasingly, our defence budget is being invested in high-end capabilities such as cyber and intelligence and surveillance assets to ensure we can keep the country safe."
From next month, the Ministry of Defence will begin recruiting military reserves from regular personnel leaving the army, current and former reserves with appropriate skills as well as those with no military experience but with technical knowledge, skills and experience – all subject to relevant security clearning.
Hammond told the Mail on Sunday yesterday that the new "laptop army" marks a significant development for the armed forces.
Future wars would be fought by "IT geeks... rather than soldiers marching down the streets, or tanks or fighter aircraft", he told the newspaper.
"More and more, modern warfare will be about people sitting in bunkers in front of computer screens, whether remotely piloted aircraft or cyber weapons.
"People think of military as land, sea and air," he said. "We long ago recognised a fourth domain – space. Now there's a fifth – cyber.
"This is the new frontier of defence. For years, we have been building a defensive capability to protect ourselves against these cyberattacks. That is no longer enough. You deter people by having an offensive capability."
Ross Brewer, managing director for international markets at security vendor LogRhythm said the government's move is a long time coming.
"The government has been heavily lambasted in recent years for failing to do enough to protect its citizens from internet crime, whether state sponsored or otherwise, and I can only presume that this is an attempt to dispel this criticism and finally show some teeth," he said.
"While it's commendable that the government seems to be standing up and taking notice of cyber threats, blindly attacking the networks of assumed perpetrators and enemy states could have disastrous consequences in terms of international relations and unwanted retaliation."
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