Britain is to pump £250 million into creating a new, 2,000-strong force for waging war in cyberspace and taking offensive action against terrorists and criminals.
The plan by the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ — the UK’s signals intelligence agency — comes after the UK successfully used cyber attacks against the Islamic State, and amid a growing cyber threat from Russia.
The new planned force, revealed by The Times, will be announced soon and will represent a quadrupling in the manpower focused on offensive cyber operations.
At least £250 million will be spent on the project, one source told the newspaper, with a second insider claiming the figure is likely to be much higher.
It will also target criminal gangs, including people-traffickers and paedophile rings.
The so-called “joint cyber-force” will have a separate headquarters as GCHQ’s high-tech base in Cheltenham is at capacity, with RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire and MoD Corsham in Wiltshire being considered as potential locations.
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The news comes as details about successful British cyber attacks on Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria emerge.
Malware was deployed by the military to block terrorists’ access to data and disrupt their cash flow. Fake news was also spread to confuse the radical Muslims.
The command structure is still being discussed with tensions between GCHQ and the Ministry of Defence. “There will be tussles I expect,” a source said.
“The military will want it to be a high-level war-fighting force that can do things like counter-missile programmes, which will probably never be used, while politicians will want a tactical force that focuses on combating crime and domestic terror threats.”
A Government spokesman said on Thursday night: “The MoD and GCHQ have a long and proud history of working together, including on the National Offensive Cyber Programme.
“We are both committed to continuing to invest in this area, given the real threats the UK faces from a range of hostile actors.”