LONDON - The new National Cyber Force (NCF) is helping to transform the United Kingdom’s (UK) cyber capabilities to disrupt adversaries and keep the UK safe, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Thursday.
In a speech on defence spending, the PM avowed the GCHQ and Ministry of Defence (MoD) partnership which is conducting cyber operations to disrupt hostile state activities, terrorists and criminals threatening the UK’s national security – from countering terror plots to supporting military operations. Working alongside the NCSC – a part of GCHQ - which protects the digital homeland, the NCF plays a vital role in enhancing the UK’s world-leading and responsible cyber power.
The NCF draws together personnel from intelligence, cyber and security agency GCHQ, the MoD, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) under one unified command for the first time. Alongside MoD’s operational expertise, DSTL’s scientific and technical capabilities and GCHQ’s global intelligence, SIS (MI6) provides its expertise in recruiting and running agents alongside its unique ability to deliver clandestine operational technology.
Used alongside diplomatic, economic, political and military capabilities, examples of cyber operations could include:
• interfering with a mobile phone to prevent a terrorist from being able to communicate with their contacts;
• helping to prevent the internet from being used as a global platform for serious crimes, including sexual abuse of children and fraud; and
• keeping UK military aircraft safe from targeting by hostile weapons systems.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace: “The National Cyber Force is a joint Defence and GCHQ capability, giving the UK a world class ability to conduct cyber operations.
“The NCF is bolstering our global presence in the cyber domain, and it is a clear example of how we are turning our ambitious agenda to modernise defence into a reality.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab: “The world relies on cyberspace more than ever so it’s vital we have the right tools in place to ensure the online world is prosperous and secure for all.
“The UK’s new National Cyber Force is a world-leading force for good, capable of conducting targeted, responsible cyber operations to protect our national security.
“From defending against terrorism, to countering hostile state activity to tackling the scourge of online child abuse, the National Cyber Force brings together critical capabilities from across government to help protect the UK.”
Director GCHQ Jeremy Fleming said: “For over a century, GCHQ has worked to keep the UK safe. Cyber security has become an integral part of this mission as we strive to make the UK the safest place to live and do business online. We are a world-leading cyber power.
“Today the National Cyber Force builds out from that position of defensive strength. It brings together intelligence and defence capabilities to transform the UK’s ability to contest adversaries in cyber space, to protect the country, its people and our way of life.
“Working in close partnership with law enforcement and international partners, the National Cyber Force operates in a legal, ethical and proportionate way to help defend the nation and counter the full range of national security threats.”
General Sir Patrick Sanders of Strategic Command, which leads on cyber, intelligence, special forces and information capabilities for Defence, said: “Just over 100 years ago we created a new force to defend the UK from threats in a new domain – the air. Today’s announcement of the formation of the National Cyber Force to defend the UK in cyberspace marks a similar milestone and the imperative is just as vital because cyberspace is the most contested domain where our adversaries and our allies will meet over the next decade and beyond.
“What distinguishes the NCF, and I believe passionately is its greatest strength, lies in the partnership between Strategic Command, GCHQ and SIS, blending our strengths and cultures to create this operationally distinct force. It is a natural step after decades of cooperation and means we are growing a potent national capability to deter our adversaries, defend our forces on operations and protect our digital homeland.”
The UK is committed to using its cyber capabilities in a responsible way and in line with UK and international law. Past and future cyber operations have and will continue to operate under existing laws, including those granted by the Intelligence Services Act and the Investigatory Powers Act. This ensures UK cyber operations are responsible, targeted and proportionate, unlike those of some of our adversaries.
The NCF builds on the success of the current National Offensive Cyber Programme, including collaboration between GCHQ and Strategic Command to carry out cyber operations. Working alongside other parts of government, the NCF is training and recruiting at scale, helping to fulfil the UK’s cyber skills aspirations, as well as investing in the research and development required to establish and maintain world leading cyber capabilities.
The UK has been a world-leader on offensive cyber operations, with GCHQ pioneering the use and development of these cyber techniques. In 2016 the then Defence Secretary confirmed the UK was conducting cyber operations against Daesh and in 2018, Director GCHQ revealed how it had degraded ISIS propaganda networks through cyber operations. The UK was also the first country to offer these cyber capabilities to NATO and now, through the NCF, are an increasingly important contribution to that alliance.
The NCF is separate to the NCSC, a part of GCHQ established in 2016 to defend the digital homeland – helping to make the UK the safest place to live and work online. It works together with the NCF to counter cyber adversaries and defend the UK from harm.
It worthy to note that:
1. The NCF will not reveal operational methods, sources or the identity of its staff, but will be transparent on how our operations take place in line with UK and international law, and – where possible – our impact, sharing detail with the public where appropriate.
2. GCHQ is the UK’s intelligence, cyber and security agency which uses cutting-edge technology and technical ingenuity to identify, analyse and disrupt threats, including foreign adversaries, terrorism and serious and organised crime. GCHQ works closely with partners in the UK, including the other intelligence agencies MI5 and SIS, and around the world, including agencies in our Five Eyes partners the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
3. The MoD works for a secure and prosperous United Kingdom with global reach and influence. The MOD will protect its people, territories, values and interests at home and overseas, through strong armed forces and in partnership with allies, to ensure our security, support our national interests and safeguard our prosperity.
4. SIS (MI6) works secretly overseas to gather intelligence from people and organisations. Our work is often referred to as “espionage” or “spying”. It has to be done in secret to protect our staff, our agents, our technology and ultimately the UK. ‘Agents’ are individuals who choose to help us collect intelligence. We have three core areas of focus: counter-terrorism; disrupting hostile state activity; cyber. Out impact in these areas also reduces serious and organised crime, prevents the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons, and upholds the international rule of law.
5. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) delivers high-impact science and technology for the UK's defence, security and prosperity. DSTL is an Executive Agency of the MoD with around 4,500 staff working across four sites; Porton Down, near Salisbury, Portsdown West, near Portsmouth, Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks, and Alverstoke, near Gosport.
6. Cyber operations will continue to operate under our existing legal framework. The UK will continue to insist international law continues to apply in cyberspace and we will continue our work with international partners to strengthen determination to deter irresponsible state behaviour in cyber space.