Britain 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.”
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.