UK cyber defence plan to include northern ‘cyber corridor’

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to outline the government’s plans to buttress the UK’s cyber defences this week, as he announces the conclusions of its 'Integrated Review' of foreign, defence, security and development policy.

The government is expected to say it is committed to a “full spectrum” approach to cyber defence, in an effort to keep people safe and stay ahead of hostile parties as international warfare becomes increasingly focused on digital operations, from ransomware attacks to psychological operations conducted via social media platforms.

The Integrated Review – which is being framed as the largest overhaul of defence strategy since the Cold War – will include plans for a “cyber corridor” across the north of England, among other policies to boost the UK’s cyber defences. The headquarters of a new 'National Cyber Force' (NCF) will be located somewhere in this region; the exact location is expected to be announced this week.

The government said that locating the NCF in the north will drive growth in the digital, defence and technology sectors outside London and the south east of England, as well as encouraging multi-sector collaboration in the region. There is already a GCHQ office in Manchester and the government stated that the defence industry sustains more than 35,000 jobs in the north-west of England.

The NCF, which was first reported in September 2018, is in the process of being established as a unit for carrying out offensive cyber action against terrorist groups, hostile states and organised criminal operations. The NCF was officially created in 2020.

Last month, one of the UK’s top military leaders told Sky News that “unquestionably” offensive cyber is one of the ways the military is protecting the UK’s interests, although GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming implied during the same program that the UK has not yet deployed offensive cyber tools against another state.

It was reported that approximately £76m would be invested in the NCF during its first year of operation and that it would operate alongside the National Cyber Security Centre, with command and control shared between the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ. It aims to bring together experts from the armed forces, intelligence, other public bodies, academics and the private sector.

“Cyber power is revolutionising the way we live our lives and fight our wars, just as air power did 100 years ago,” Johnson said, in a statement ahead of the announcement. “We need to build up our cyber capability so we can grasp the opportunities it presents while ensuring those who seek to use its powers to attack us and our way of life are thwarted at every turn.

“Our new, full-spectrum approach to cyber will transform our ability to protect our people, promote our interests around the world and make the lives of British people better every day.”

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