UK to hire hundreds of hackers for new £500m cyber-battalion

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Security threats

Programmers and camouflage. Images courtesy of ShutterstockBritain is building an army to wage war by hurling computer hackers at its enemies.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the country is recruiting "hundreds" of hackers at a cost of up to £500 million ($909 million), The Register reported.

News of the "laptop army" was delivered from an appropriately militaristic setting: the bowels of the Ministry of Defence's vast Pindar nuclear bunker, or "Current Contingencies Task Room," situated deep below Whitehall, at the Tory conference on Sunday, the Daily Mail reported.

Future wars will, Hammond told the newspaper, be fought by "IT geeks in rooms like this rather than soldiers marching down the streets, or tanks or fighter aircraft."

He said:

More and more, modern warfare will be about people sitting in bunkers in front of computer screens, whether remotely piloted aircraft or cyber weapons.

The laptop warriors will work with existing government IT security teams to protect critical infrastructure and data stores were the country to come under electronic attack.

Instead of bombs and bullets, the new cyber regiment will fashion lethal computer worms and viruses to wipe out enemy targets.

The recruitment ad for cyber reservists emphasizes that selection will recognise "the unique attributes and potential contribution of individuals who might otherwise not be attracted or able to serve in the Reserve forces."

What, exactly, are the Reserve forces willing to overlook in the hacker community?

Physical fitness, for one. The ability to do chin-ups does not, after all, a computer genius make.

Or, as the Daily Mail put it, British hackers who spend more time bathed in monitor glow than they do exposed to the harsh rays of the sun are in good stead to be recruited:

The Army’s tough fitness tests are to be lowered to allow weedy or overweight 'computer geniuses' to join the new front line of 'keyboard commandoes'.

The money for this battalion has to come from somewhere, but where? Soldiers? Tanks? Ships? Fighter planes?

Hammond declined to state where the cuts would come from:

We only have one pot of money and if we going to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in cyber capabilities, we have to stop doing something else.

That is the tough message. As our cyber capability builds, we will look at how the military would be likely to use it and where that allows us to reduce other capabilities.

Where we can tackle a target with cyber weapons, we may need fewer conventional weapons in that area but I can’t say yet where those areas will be. It will be a constant evolution.

The trigger of the gun, bomb or missile will always have a role but as the world becomes more dependent on IT systems, one way of delivering incapacitating blow to the enemy will be by delivering a blow to his IT systems.

Do you think it's a good idea?

Do you think that an army of hackers is more/less/as needed as conventional, on-the-ground warriors armed with bullets and tanks?

Does the organised hacking might of countries such as China merit a response such as Hammond has described?

Please let us know your thoughts on these and other cyber army issues in the comments section below.

Image of camouflage and programmers courtesy of Shutterstock.

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9 Responses to UK to hire hundreds of hackers for new £500m cyber-battalion

  1. Anonymous · 303 days ago

    My first thought is, why do they need £500 million for only "hundreds" of hackers? I'm assuming they're not giving 500 hackers £1 million each. (If they are, expect long lines at the recruitment office!)

    • Scutterman · 302 days ago

      The brunt of the investment will be in infrastructure, red tape, etc. The wheels of the government machine need an expensive oil, even if they only make a small movement.

  2. J2897 · 302 days ago

    I think he should allow the Cyber Forces and the Military Forces to communicate with each other, but they should be kept as two distinct groups and not become dependant on each other. Once coding errors start to put soldiers lives in danger, its GAME OVER for the Cyber Forces... Despite my concerns, I think this could be a great step forward - not just for the military, but for government software as a whole; I'm assuming most of our government's software will be public domain like that produced by the USAF, or at least released under a libre license.

  3. It's about dang time. I do not live in the UK, but I like the UK. Please hiret me!

  4. Anonymous · 302 days ago

    They need computers and other equipment to work on. Not just the salary for the hackers.

  5. anon · 302 days ago

    Please stop quoting the daily mail's rubbish, even if it is in jest!!!

  6. Keith Roberts · 301 days ago

    I'm getting on me bike to Whitehall - gis a job Phil !

  7. anon · 294 days ago

    I think the whole idea is ridiculous and the Defence Minister needs a reality check.
    With the daft comments he's publicly making.

  8. John Bull · 255 days ago

    The UK government have kept this one VERY quiet. I think if they had a rethink on foreign policy and concentrated on rebuilding families and local communities, they wouldn't have to bother with spending half a billion on "keyboard commandos"...of course now they have to police these people for "Keyboard Al Quaida".....etc etc etc. Plus who's to say these characters won't just end up attacking the civil rights British people, that's what always ends up happening when they say they will 'protect' us anyway.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.