The United Kingdom is readying the official launch of a specialist cyber force that will target terror groups and hostile nation states, it is being reported.
The cyber force of hackers is due to be launched later in the spring, after many months of delays and turf wars between the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ, the Guardian newspaper reported.
Ever since 2013, the UK MoD has allowed convicted hackers to join the UK’s Joint Cyber Reserve Unit (JCRU), but the reality is the UK’s cyber teams and capabilities (both offensive and defensive) have been growing for years.
In June 2011 for example the UK Ministry of Defence created a joint force command unit, that integrated the MoD’s cyber warfare and military intelligence units.
A few months prior to that in May 2011, the British government also acknowledged it had begun work on a “toolbox” of offensive cyber-weapons to complement its existing defensive capabilities.
The current government has invested in expanding the UK’s cyber-security forces, including the foundation of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which operates under GCHQ but is based in London.
Indeed, between 2011 and 2016, the Government had allocated £860m to the National Cyber Security Programme, and for the five years from 2016 to 2021, the Government “has in recognition of the threat – significantly increased funding and allocated £1.9bn for the new National Cyber Security Strategy.”
In September 2018 the Government announced it was planning to expand the UK’s offensive cyber-war capabilities by approximately fourfold with a new cyber warfare unit – amidst increased threats from the likes of Russia, North Korea and Iran.
The exact nature of the UK’s offensive cyber weaponry is a closely guarded secret, but in a submission to a report December 2017 by parliament’s intelligence and security committee, GCHQ said the capabilities of its cyber unit extended to “the high end of counter state offensive cyber capabilities”.
“We actually over-achieved and delivered (almost double the number of) capabilities (we were aiming for),” GCHQ said in the report.
In April 2018 the government said it had carried out a cyber-attack on the ISIL or Islamic State militant group.
Now the UK is almost ready with its ‘National Cyber Force’, which is reported by the Guardian to contain an estimated 500 specialists (hackers).
The Guardian said that while the plan had in development for two years, sources said that after months of wrangling over the details, the specialist unit was close to being formally announced.
It is understood that the National Cyber Force will be a joint initiative between the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ, and insiders said it would consolidate some existing capabilities as well as develop new ones.
However, officials have not disclosed many other details, the newspaper reported, arguing that much of what the UK’s offensive hackers could do should remain classified.
Nor is the identity of its leader expected to be publicly disclosed, although previous speculation that it would be a woman is understood to be inaccurate.
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