Should UK respond to hackers with military force?

Defence secretary Michael Fallon outlined in a speech how the UK is strengthening its cyber defences

Digital padlock hovering over a screen

Defence secretary Michael Fallon told Chatham House's Cyber 2017 conference that the UK has the ability to use military force to respond to hackers.

The defence secretary explained that one of the ways to protect the national infrastructure was by strengthening the UK's deterrence. He said that the ministry's rising budget of 178 billion will be invested in "full spectrum capability" including Ajax armoured vehicles and fifth generation F35 fighter jets. Fallon said this would signal "to potential cyber strikers that the price of an online attack could invite a response from domain, air, land, sea, or cyberspace".

He confirmed that the UK military is using offensive cyber in the war against ISIS which is "already beginning to have a major effect on degrading Daesh's capabilities".

Fallon also claimed that one in five British Businesses has been hacked by cyber criminals in the last year and said that the ministry is investing some 1.9 billion into boosting cybersecurity.

He stated that the ministry is encouraging all its staff to observe good cyber etiquette and have mandatory annual refresher training. There is a focus on recruiting the cyber savvy and the ministry plans to open in January "a dedicated state-of-the-art Defence Cyber school at Shrivenham, bringing together all our military joint cyber training into one place."

Fallon pointed out how users have a responsibility to look after themselves online. He said: "A stronger password here, a Windows update there, and we would have stood an even better chance of warding off the Parliamentary and WannaCry attacks." The MOD is setting up a Defence Cyber Partnership Programme to ensure that companies with which it has defence contracts are properly protecting themselves and meeting cyber security standards.

Yesterday, a ransomware attack locked down corporate computers throughout Europe and the US, just one month after organisations including the NHS were put out of action by WannaCry. The ransom amount is $300 and has affected organisations such as the Ukrainian central bank, British advertising firm WPP and US law firm DLA Piper. Researchers have not been able to locate a kill switch to disable the ransomware, but a vaccine has been found to prevent it from infecting computers. Despite this, the vaccine will only protect the individual computer.

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