Britain’s military communication networks were subjected to more than six million cyber attacks last year, with a shadow war intensifying amid conflict in Europe and confrontation in the Far East.
The sustained assaults, on a daily basis, by hostile states and allied criminal gangs are taking place as the intelligence and security services report a notable increase in secret operations by countries like Russia, Iran and China, and when Vladimir Putin is forging links with a ‘pariah’ country, North Korea.
General Sir Jim Hockenhull, head of the UK’s Strategic Command, said: “The new domains of space and cyber are areas of particular challenge, whether it is to ramp up information operations in an attempt to destabilise our societies, or to directly attack our core capabilities.2
“Indeed, our Cyber Operators are fighting our adversaries every day,” he continued. “Our Cyber Warriors are the part of defence that is most engaged with our adversaries on a consistent basis. Last year there were over six million attacks on MOD networks. This is not an amateur sport – this is at an Olympic standard all day every day.”
The massive of cyber attacks was revealed by General Hockenhull at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) conference in London.
He said: “The scale of complexity and challenge goes beyond anything I have seen in the last 40 years. We have a war in Europe, with Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and we have witnessed nuclear rhetoric reminiscent of earlier times.
“While this is the most evident threat, we need to recognise that some of the older threats like espionage have not gone away. We also have Iran acting as a destabilising force across the Middle East, and North Korea continues its threatening behaviour.”
Figures for cyber attacks have been rising steadily before reaching the six million plus mark last year.
“Some are carried out by criminal gangs, but, of course one has to bear in mind that some of these criminal gangs are enabled and empowered by hostile states,” Gen Hockenhull continued. “So sometimes they may be cyber criminals trying to get on to the network to commit cyber crim, other times they may be working for a hostile state”,
Defence technology is among military secrets targeted by hackers.
Following the revelation that a parliamentary researcher had been arrested for allegedly being a Chinese spy, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden told the Commons “ China was the number one state-based threat” to the UK’s economic security.
Asked whether the military’s response to China and Russia’s undercover threat, Gen Hockenhull said there was a limited counterintelligence threat when Britain was involved in the Iraq and Afghan wars.
“But as we’ve seen much more interaction from hostile states like Russia and China which at times provide a challenge for us,” he added.
“We’ve upped our game and made sure we’re not just thinking about traditional espionage, but also cyber and make sure we secure our operations.”