UK to create new cyber defence force

Computer graphic showing hands and a keyboard
Image caption The role of the unit is to protect computer networks and safeguard vital data

The UK is to create a new cyber unit to help defend national security, the defence secretary has announced.

The Ministry of Defence is set to recruit hundreds of reservists as computer experts to work alongside regular forces in the creation of the new Joint Cyber Reserve Unit.

The new unit will also, if necessary, launch strikes in cyber space, Philip Hammond said.

Recruiting for reservists to join the unit will start next month.

The role of the unit is to protect computer networks and safeguard vital data.

Mr Hammond told the Conservative Party conference that "the threat is real".

"Last year, our cyber defences blocked around 400,000 advanced, malicious cyber threats to the government secure intranet alone," he said.

'New frontier'

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the "creation of the "Joint Cyber Unit (Reserve) will allow it to draw on individuals' talent, skills and expertise gained from their civilian experience to meet these threats".

Mr Hammond told the Mail on Sunday clinical "cyber strikes" could disable enemy communications, nuclear and chemical weapons, planes, ships and other hardware.

He told the newspaper: "People think of military as land, sea and air. 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 cyber attacks. That is no longer enough.

"You deter people by having an offensive capability. We will build in Britain a cyber strike capability so we can strike back in cyber space against enemies who attack us, putting cyber alongside land, sea, air and space as a mainstream military activity.

"Our commanders can use cyber weapons alongside conventional weapons in future conflicts."

The MoD said the recruitment of reservists will target regular personnel leaving the armed forces, current and former reservists with the required skills and civilians with the appropriate technological skills and knowledge.

Cyber attacks and crime have become more common in recent years.

In July the British intelligence agency, GCHQ, told the BBC the UK had seen about 70 sophisticated cyber espionage operations a month against government or industry networks.

In a written statement in December last year, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said 93% of large corporations and 76% of small businesses had reported a cyber breach in 2012.

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