Britain should declare cyber war on states and criminals who target the country by using aggressive retaliatory strikes to destroy their operations, MPs have warned.
Security and intelligence agencies should be willing to engage in covert cyber attacks on enemy states using programs such as the Stuxnet virus that targeted Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a report concluded.
The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said it was not enough to just defend against cyber attacks and that the military and spy agencies needed to exploit cyber warfare for their own ends.
It came as the committee warned that not enough was being done to protect Britain, almost two years after the launch of a £650 million national cyber security programme.
The MPs said slow progress was leaving the country even more vulnerable to its enemies.
Last month, Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, said there was an “astonishing” level of cyber attacks from enemy states and criminals, which were threatening government secrets and businesses.
He revealed that one attack cost a London business £800 million.
In its annual report, the ISC said defending against cyber attacks must be a priority for Britain but “there are also opportunities for our intelligence and security agencies and military which should be exploited in the interests of UK national security”.
It said those include the “active defence” of interfering with the systems of people trying to hack into British networks. GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 should also be involved in “exploitation” by accessing networks of targets to obtain intelligence and “disruption”, which involves hampering their activities or capabilities without detection.
The report highlighted the Stuxnet virus, which did not involve British agencies but is believed to have specifically disrupted the Iranian nuclear enrichment programme.
However, the report raised concerns that “much of the work to protect UK interests in cyberspace is still at an early stage”. It said: “Twenty months into the National Cyber Security Programme, there appears to have been some progress on developing cyber capabilities.
“However, cyber security is a fast-paced field and delays in developing our capabilities give our enemies the advantage.”
In a public speech last month, Mr Evans said weak points in state and commercial systems were being “exploited” by thousands of hackers and that the danger had increased because the internet was connected to most aspects of modern daily life.
The National Security Strategy ranks the threat of cyber attacks alongside that of terrorism. It is widely accepted that Russia and China sponsor many cyber incidents.
The report said GCHQ believes 80 per cent of cyber attacks are preventable through simple means, such as using appropriate security software and strong passwords.
Please login to add to favorites
Already added to favorites
Added as Favorite