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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

UK plans new strike-back cyber force

The unit will target ISIS, criminal gangs and other state attacks, say reports

The UK plans an expanded unit to launch offensive cyber operations against ISIS and other targets. REUTERS  
The UK plans an expanded unit to launch offensive cyber operations against ISIS and other targets. REUTERS  

The UK is preparing a 2,000-strong force designed to wage offensive cyber operations against terrorist groups, according to media reports.

Plans for the £250 million unit follow previously successful efforts to target the ISIS media machine and tamper with the communications of senior commanders, said Sky News.

Experts were expected to be recruited from the military, security services and industry for the joint initiative by the UK’s defence ministry and GCHQ, the government’s secret intelligence centre, in the face of a growing threat from Russia.

“The MOD [Ministry of Defence] and GCHQ have a long and proud history of working together, including on the national offensive cyber programme,” said a government spokesman. “We are both committed to continuing to invest in this area, given the real threats the UK faces from a range of hostile actors.”

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The unit would represent a four-fold increase in personnel dedicated to offensive cyber operations, said Sky. It is also expected to target criminal gangs and will be announced soon, reported the Times citing unidentified sources.

The reports said that the UK was part of a secret global operation led by the US from 2016 to sabotage online ISIS videos in an operation known as Glowing Symphony. The operation say Western officials obtain the passwords to ISIS administrator accounts and use them to delete content including battlefield videos.

The UK has committed to spending £1.9 billion over the next five years to “transform significantly” the UK’s cyber security, including an offensive cyber capability, according to its five-year strategy to 2021.

The reports of the new unit – not denied by the government - comes despite concerns over the lack of cyber security skills within the government and private sector.

A report by MPs earlier this year said that the use of nerve agent to target the Russian former spy Sergei Skripal had heightened concerns about Britain’s ability to respond to international threats.

Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, warned in January that Russia could thousands of deaths with an attack on the UK’s infrastructure, seen as an attempt to recalibrate the potential threat to the UK.