UK to pump nearly £2bn into cyber security strategy

"We must now keep up with the scale and pace of threats we face," says UK chancellor Philip Hammond

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In this file photo illustration, hands type on a computer keyboard in Los Angeles | Image: Damian Dovarganes / AP/Press Association Images

The UK launched a new national cyber security strategy today, with British chancellor Philip Hammond declaring that the country would "strike back" against those who attempt to harm it online.

The strategy, set to run from 2016 to 2021, will be supported by a £1.9 billion (€2.10bn) investment made in a defence and security review from last year,  more than double the period covered by the previous strategy.

Three areas are identified by the strategy: defence, deter and develop. Defence involves protecting critical national infrastructure in areas such as energy and transport, as well as British government websites, with automated techniques.

A "significant" chunk of the £1.9bn will go to the part of the "deter" strategy that covers "taking the fight to those who threaten Britain in cyberspace and relentlessly pursuing anyone who persists in attacking us".

Defence minister Michael Fallon recently confirmed that the UK was using cyber weapons as part of the battle for Mosul against Islamic State. But the cyber security strategy goes one step further, promising that the UK will retaliate against cyberattacks.

Recent months have seen high profile hacks, including of the Democratic National Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency. Both have been linked by US officials to Russia.

A Russian group is also thought to be behind an attack which took TV5MONDE, a French TV station, off-air. GCHQ intervened to prevent an attack from the same hacking group in the UK, targeting the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky, in 2015.

The "develop" strand of the strategy involves developing talent among students and researchers, as well as researching new cyber security technologies.

Hammond said:

"Britain is already an acknowledged global leader in cyber security thanks to our investment of over £860 million in the last parliament, but we must now keep up with the scale and pace of threats we face."

The strategy will involved partnerships with public and private organisations, with Microsoft being perhaps the biggest name on board thus far.

The tech giant's CEO of UK operations, Cindy Rose, said in a statement:

"The mobile-first, cloud-first world holds enormous potential for organisations and individuals to generate new and exciting growth opportunities.

"However, there is a corresponding risk that as people increase their technology usage they also increase their exposure to cyber security threats. It is critical for all organisations to strengthen their core security hygiene as well as creating a pervasive security culture through education and awareness."

In 2015, the British government's National Security Strategy identified cyber security as a 'tier 1' risk to the UK, the same level of risk as terrorism and global instability.

The European Commission launched its own fund, which would contribute financially to private groups working on cyber security, back in July. Some €450 million is initially being invested by EU member states, but that could reach €1.8bn by 2020.

Additional reporting by IRN