The UK is developing a cyber-weapons programme to counter growing threats to national security from cyberspace.
The cyber-weapons scheme will provide the UK with a “toolbox” of offensive options to fight online hackers targeting the country’s critical services and government departments.
Armed forces minister, Nick Harvey, acknowledged the existence of the programme and admitted that cyber-weapons were “an integral part of the country’s armoury”.
“Action in cyberspace will form part of the future battlefield. We need a toolbox of capabilities and that’s what we are currently developing,” Harvey told The Guardian.
The exact nature of the weapons being developed remains top secret, but Harvey confirmed they would be governed by the same rules that apply to the deployment of other military assets.
“The circumstances and manner in which we would use them are broadly analogous to what we would do in any other domain.” Digital networks were now “at the heart of our transport, power and communications systems”, and this reliance had “brought the capacity for warfare to cyberspace”, Harvey said.
“The consequences of a well planned, well executed attack against our digital infrastructure could be catastrophic.
“With nuclear or biological weapons, the technical threshold is high. With cyber the finger hovering over the button could be anyone from a state to a student,” Harvey said.
The Cabinet Office and the Cyber Security Operations Centre at GCHQ have taken the lead on the project, with the possibility of the Ministry of Defence providing input in the future, according to the newspaper said.