British PM promises £800 million cyber defence fund

News by Doug Drinkwater

British Prime Minister David Cameron today announced a £800 million investment in improving the country's cyber intelligence, reconnaissance and defence capabilities.

Cameron announced the funding – which is part of a bigger £1.1 billion sum for the armed forces - during a speech at the Farnborough International Airshow on Monday and in an article in The Telegraph newspaper, where he said that the money would be essential in protecting the UK's digital economy from “unseen enemies”.

Talking up the threat from global terrorism, hostage taking and cyber-criminals, Cameron said that the investment, which was made possible by MOD under-spending in recent years, was a result of a changing threat landscape.

“The majority of the money - £800 million – is being spent on intelligence and surveillance equipment,” said Cameron. “It includes the latest in cyber defence technology and surveillance aircraft that can fly over areas like the Horn of Africa, identifying any terror threats to the UK and our allies,” wrote Cameron.

“Today's investment demonstrates our approach to national security. There are those who believe we would be safer if we fundamentally retreated from the world. They see new warships and military investment and imagine a government bent on foreign adventurism. But the plain fact is that in the 21st century, you cannot defend the realm from the white cliffs of Dover.”

“Terrorist plots hatched thousands of miles away threaten to cause harm on our streets.”

Cameron's changes come at a time of serious defence cuts. A total of 30,000 Armed Forces job cuts have been outlined since Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010, with the regular army being told that its numbers must shrink from 102,000 in 2010 to 82,000 by 2020. The government has also cut defence spending by around eight percent over the last four years in a bid to overhaul the budget deficit.

“The threats we face have changed utterly in 30 years – from the clarity of the Cold War to the complex and shifting challenges of today: global terrorism, organised crime, hostage taking, the risk of nuclear proliferation, cyber-attack, energy security.

“The enemy may be seen or unseen. So as the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010 made clear, it is not massed tanks on the European mainland we need, but the latest in cyber warfare.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office reaffirmed that the money was being used against global terrorism and hostage taking, as well as “cyber defence capabilities”, but couldn't go into more detail on whether this entailed GCHQ surveillance or protecting critical infrastructure.

Rob Cotton, CEO at global information assurance firm NCC Group, applauded the move, saying that increased intelligence is the starting point for detecting cyber-attacks.

“It is great that the government acknowledges that cyber-attacks are often used as a weapon in the modern world and this fund should significantly help to predict future attacks and mitigate the risks,” he said in an email to SCMagazineUK.com.

“Increasing intelligence around these threats is a sensible starting point. We would also hope that the UK government will look to collaborate with other nations in order to combat this issue, as we know all too well that cyber-crime is more often than not an international issue.

David Lacey, futurologist at IOActive, however was less impressed with the changes, saying that there's too much focus on surveillance, reconnaissance and radar equipment, and less on SCADA systems that are increasingly under threat.

“We need to harden our SCADA systems and invest in advanced systems and skills to detect and respond quickly to cyber attacks. Existing funding is not enough and is not effective. Our universities teach compliance rather than security, and our researchers are more interested in breaking systems rather than securing them,” he told SC.

The funding comes two weeks after Dame Margaret Beckett, a Labour MP and chair of the National Security Strategy Committee, warned the government about cyber threats by pointing out that the army cannot be expected to provide resiliency in this area too.

“When there are major crises, we do tend to turn to the armed forces. It is not at all clear that the preparations the armed forces have made stretch beyond cyber security concerns of their own,” said Beckett at the time.

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