Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer warns Britain could be plunged into darkness by enemy hackers
Philip Hammond warned cyber-attacks could plunge Britain’s cities into “darkness” and ground aeroplanes using cyber-attacks.
Speaking in the midst of warnings about Russian-backed hacking, the chancellor told enemies that Britain would “retaliate in kind” to attacks, describing this as “the best deterrent”.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the precursor to any future state-on-state conflict would be a campaign of escalating cyber-attacks, to break down our defences and test our resolve before the first shot is fired,” Hammond said. “Kinetic attacks carry huge risk of retaliation and may breach international law.
Setting out the most detailed analysis yet of the dangers of computer warfare, Hammond in a keynote speech in London disclosed that “critical national infrastructure” was in danger.
The former defence secretary said that Britain’s response to the threat had to match the physical deterrent value of the armed forces.
“But in cyber space those who want to harm us appear to think they can act both scalably and deniably. It is our duty to demonstrate that they cannot act with impunity.
“So we will not only defend ourselves in cyberspace; we will strike back in kind when we are attacked.”
Describing the National Cyber Security Strategy in London, Hammond said: “If we do not have the ability to respond in cyberspace to an attack which takes down our power networks, leaving us in darkness, or hits our air traffic control system, grounding our aircraft, we would be left with the impossible choice of turning the other cheek and ignoring the devastating consequences, or resorting to a military response.” He said “That is a choice we do not want to face and a choice we do not want to leave as a legacy to our successors.”
He added: “A small number of hostile foreign actors have developed and deployed offensive cyber capabilities, including destructive ones. These capabilities threaten the security of the UK’s critical national infrastructure and industrial control systems.”
While the Chancellor did not name a country, but his comments came after Russia was blamed for a series of cyber-attacks and the hacking of emails to influence the U.S. presidential election.
He also appealed to business leaders to take more responsibility for securing systems and designing products that could withstand hacking.
The government has pledged to invest £1.9 billion in boosting the UK's cybersecurity defences and to develop cyber-attack capabilities that would allow it to fight back if struck by a foreign adversary. The new cash will fund a five-year strategy, and effectively doubles existing spending on cyber defence.
“Hopefully this new government spend will resonate with UK boardrooms and show the importance of having a robust security program in place with everyone from the CEO, CFO and CTO, ensuring they are educated to the risks and understand the importance of having strong enterprise grade security measures in place.
"Businesses should not rely on one security supplier when trusting them to protect their business. Instead, businesses should build its resilience through multiple layers of firewalls, encryption and good security software providers so that if one is compromised, the others are all in place and maintaining that high level of protection.”
There is also concern about the development of the 'internet of things', which allows smart devices in everyday items to be operated remotely.
A source said: “Old legacy IT systems used by many organisations in the UK, and the readily available suite of user-friendly hacking tools mean everyone from the living room to the boardroom is exposed to malicious hackers.”
The new cash is expected to fund the creation of a new Cyber Security Research Unit to find ways of improving security on smartphones, laptops and tablets.
A source said: “We will take the fight to those who threaten Britain in cyber-space and relentlessly pursue anyone who persists in attacking us.
“This will be done in part through strengthening our law enforcement capabilities to raise the cost of cyber-crime, building international partnerships and being clear that the UK will defend itself in cyberspace and strike back against those that try to harm our country.”