The UK government is planning to recruit hundreds of computer specialists to defend core infrastructure against cyberthreats, Conservative Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said Sunday.
Speaking at the annual Conservative party conference, Hammond said the United Kingdom was dedicating additional resources and funds to building a strong cyber intelligence and surveillance network, according to Reuters.
As cybercrime continues to prove a lucrative way for hackers to steal valuable data for profit or as part of state-sponsored jobs -- and many governments struggle to catch up and protect networks adequately against rising attacks -- defense budget funds now need to not only consider physical threats, but digital warfare as well. Hammond commented:
"Last year our cyber defenses blocked around 400,000 advanced malicious cyber threats against the government's secure internet alone, so the threat is real. But simply building cyber defenses is not enough: as in other domains of warfare, we also have to deter. Britain will build a dedicated capability to counterattack in cyberspace and if necessary to strike in cyberspace."
In February, the National Audit Office named "addressing the UK's current and future ICT and cybersecurity skills gap" as a "key challenge." The NAO report was published as part of the UK's 650 million pound ($1.09 billion) Cyber Security Strategy scheme, and said it could take "20 years" to address the skills gap at all levels of education.
Not only could a dedicated task force of offensive security experts deter hackers in the future, but the Defence Secretary told the Mail on Sunday that cyberstrikes could work "alongside conventional weapons in future conflicts," disabling communications, nuclear weapons, ships and critical hardware.
To establish the new cybersecurity force, the UK will recruit experts in their hundreds from a number of fields. The recruitment drive will include civilian computer experts who will be part of the "Joint Cyber Reserve," and their role will be to work alongside members of the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ to protect critical infrastructure and prevent data theft.
The cost of the program was not disclosed, but recruitment is due to begin in October.
"Increasingly, our defense budget is being invested in high-end capabilities such as cyber and intelligence and surveillance assets to ensure we can keep the country safe. The cyber reserves will be an essential part of ensuring we defend our national security in cyber-space. This is an exciting opportunity for Internet experts in industry to put their skills to good use for the nation, protecting our vital computer systems and capabilities."
The UK is also seeking ways to train the next generation of cyberspecialists. In May, two UK universities -- Oxford and Royal Holloway -- were granted 7.5 million pounds in funding to help develop the country's skills in online security. Apprenticeships in cybersecurity are also due to be offered this year by E-Skills, the UK's sector skills council for business and information technology.
This story originally appeared at ZDNet under the headline "Britain creates counter-attack cyber unit>."