Britain's National Cyber Force Reveals Its Operating Doctrine

Established in 2020, Britain's National Cyber Force (NCF) is a partnership between GCHQ and the Ministry of Defence which carries out daily cyber operations to protect against threats to the UK, support foreign policy, support military operations and prevent serious crime.

Following the publication of the Government’s Integrated Review Refresh (IRR) in March 2023, the publication of a new document titled ‘NCF: Responsible Cyber Power in Practice’ last week delivers on the commitment in the IRR to be as transparent as possible about the NCF’s cyber capabilities and provide clarity on how the UK acts as a responsible and democratic cyber power.

Britain is committed to international stability and security, and illustrating how states can act responsibly in cyberspace through demonstrating how the NCF’s operations are accountable, precise and calibrated. This, the governmnet claims, is in contrast to the 'reckless and indiscriminate activities' of those who would do harm to the UK and its allies.

All of the NCF’s operations are conducted in a legal and ethical manner, in line with domestic and international law and our national values. The operations are based on a deep understanding of the cyber environment, which enables NCF to design, time and target them with precision.

Central to the NCF’s approach is the ‘doctrine of cognitive effect’ - using techniques that have the potential to sow distrust, decrease morale, and weaken our adversaries’ abilities to plan and conduct their activities effectively. This can include preventing terrorist groups from publishing pieces of extremist media online or making it harder for states to use the Internet to spread disinformation by affecting their perception of the operating environment.

The NCF’s work is secret and it does not reveal details of individual operations, however, the intent is sometimes that adversaries do not realise that the effects they are experiencing are the result of a cyber operation. This ambiguity can help to amplify the cognitive effect.

Despite the necessary level of secrecy it can be disclosed that over the last three years the NCF has delivered operations to:

  • Protect military deployments overseas.
  • Disrupt terrorist groups.
  • Counter sophisticated, stealthy and continuous cyber threats.
  • Counter state disinformation campaigns.
  • Reduce the threat of external interference in democratic elections.
  • Remove child sexual abuse material from public spaces online.

In an increasingly volatile and interconnected world, to be a truly responsible cyber power, nations must be able to contest and compete with adversaries in cyberspace.

The National Cyber Force complements the UK’s world class cyber resilience to give the country  operational cyber capabilities at the scale needed to protect our free, open, and peaceful society.

With the threat growing and the stakes higher than ever before, the British government hope its new policy document provides a benchmark for the UK’s approach and a basis for like-minded governments to come together to establish a shared vision and values for the responsible use of cyber operations.

Gov.UK:        Gov.UK:       

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