The British Cyber Command

A new British combined specialist cyber unit the British National Cyber Force (NCF) will soon become operational with the aim to take offensive action to combat security threats, hacking, fake-news and election interference. The unit has been conceived as a joint initiative between the Ministry of Defence and the national signals intelligence agency GCHQ.

Currently these operations already employ over 500 personnel for the national offensive cyber programme. The new £250 million unit will comprise about 2,000 digital warriors, with experts recruited from the military, security services and industry. It will quadruple the number of personnel in offensive cyber-roles and marks a step change in the nation’s ability to disrupt and destroy computer networks and Internet-connected devices.

Now the UK is almost ready to wage cyber warfare against terrorist groups, hostile states and organised crime groups that are threats to the country.

The American assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani has added urgency to the progress of the specialist unit, amid risks of a cyber conflict that could affect the UK. Currently there is no evidence of any Iranians plans to target the UK in response to the killing carried out by the US administration, although it is thought tht their militant groups may decide to carry out strikes autonomously.

The NCF is operated by the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ and will be the first organisation in Britain dedicated solely to offensive action against adversaries abroad. Around £76m is due to be invested in the force in the first year. and recruitment is projected to take place from the armed forces and intelligence services, as well as academia and the private sector.

The NCF will operate alongside the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which primarily concentrates on defensive cyber activities to protect government departments, strategic infrastructure and industry. The need for an organisation such as the NCF has been increasingly recognised in security and military circles, due to the rapid rise of extremist propaganda, allegations of Russian interference in western elections and referendum campaigns, disinformation following the Salisbury poisoning, and attacks on public and private institutions by hacking gangs.

Iran was blamed in 2012 for targeting Wall Street banks with denial-of-service attacks, knocking their websites offline in retaliation against US sanctions. In 2015, Turkey blamed Tehran for cyberattacks that hit its electricity grid, shutting down power for 40 million people.

Two years ago, dozens of Westminster  parliamentary accounts were breached in attacks linked to Iran and throughout 2019 Tehran was blamed for data hacks of American businesses. The Iranian government has firmly denied the allegations.

The NCF is expected to expand its activities to crime networks involved in gun and drug smuggling, as well as people trafficking, which often augments the earnings of extremist groups.

Offensive cyber action had been carried out on an ad-hoc basis against Isis in Syria and Iraq. Setting up the NCF has been delayed, say western officials, by distractions caused by uncertainties over Brexit and frequent changes of ministers and secretaries of state in the MoD. 

Independent:         New Satesman:        ITPro:     The Times:      GCHQ:        FT.com:

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