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The Cost of Defending Defence

Prime Target

The British defence network is reportedly the “single largest computer network in Europe” and, to those with malicious intent, it is no doubt a veritable treasure trove of sensitive military secrets and valuable intellectual property. Little wonder, then, that the MoD is considered one of the most targeted organisations in the world, and that network subjected to “hundreds, sometimes thousands” of attempted attacks by cyber spies and criminals every single day.

Prime Defence

Having invested £690 million back in 2011 on the development of the former Basil Hill Barracks, Wiltshire site into what is now known as MoD Corsham, Britain is already “a world leader in cyber security,” according to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. MoD Corsham being the armed forces’ communications hub, home to the Ministry of Defence’s Global Operations Security Control Centre (GOSCC), the Joint Security Co-ordination Centre (JSyCC) and Joint Forces Command’s Information Systems and Services (JFC ISS) – where the responsibility of maintaining the security of the defence network, among other responsibilities, falls.

Not Just Defence

In fact, Britain’s “world leading” digital military program extends beyond simply defending MoD networks. In 2013 the Defence Secretary at the time, Philip Hammond, announced that the MoD and GCHQ had built a “full-spectrum military cyber capability, including a strike capability”, making Britain the first country in the world to state publicly that they had the means to go on the digital offensive.

Staying on Top

Of course with cyber threats constantly growing and evolving, the only way to keep ahead is to keep investing and keep developing. Last November the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, promised to “double cyber security spending” over the next five years, to £1.9 billion. Last month I voiced my doubts when there was no mention of this in the 2016 Budget, however since then the picture has at least become a little clearer.

Welcome News

In the first major announcement since, about how the money will be allocated, Michael Fallon has revealed plans to spend over £40 million on a new Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC) to join the existing facilities at Corsham. This “will be a dedicated facility … to protect the MoD’s cyberspace” and Fallon tells us “this new Operations Centre will ensure that our Armed Forces continue to operate securely”. In other words, the CSOC’s role is quite specifically to keep that defence network secure, in order to facilitate the continued secure operation of the Armed Forces. Few would disagree that this is a worthy area for investment, and one in which we simply cannot afford to fall behind.

We are, however, also told that “the CSOC will work closely with the National Cyber Security Centre to facilitate the sharing of MOD cyber security challenges and contribute to wider national cyber security. This will act to further strengthen our defences and enable the most efficient working.” Just how far this will extend is unclear, but with collaboration versus secrecy always presenting a difficult hurdle, any sharing is better than none.

Looking Forward

We know that cyber security was identified as a key priority for the government, and I’m certainly in support of this latest development (in principal). Yet, realistically, £40 million is a drop in the ocean when considering the scale of investment that we have been told to expect over the coming years.

So what can we expect to see announced next? And when?

If I were cynical, I might be wondering if perhaps these big spending plans were broadcast to ride the wave of the great deal of publicity surrounding cybercrime recently – but without any real idea of what the money really ought to be spent on, and perhaps even without a plan of how to work that out. The danger, then, is that having committed to spend this money it could become a case of finding popular ways to spend it, rather than identifying needs and then allocating funds to deal with those needs.

So, while we (quite understandably) will likely never be made privy to precisely how a great deal of the money is allocated, it will certainly be worth keeping a close eye out for more announcements, and on their true implications.