According to defense secretary Sir Michael Fallon, the UK could justify a military retaliation to cyberattacks. And soon, they would be capable of launching attacks from “air, land, sea or cyberspace” in response to an “online attack.”
His speech came after the parliamentary network attack, but within hours of the international Petya (NotPetya) attacks. He spoke in reference to the UK parliament cyberattack that locked 90 MPs and peers out of their email accounts. Weeks prior, the “WannaCry” ransomware struck, leaving only a legacy, a trail of destruction, and opportunities for governments to push increased cyberwarfare ability.
Fallon said, “The price of an online attack could invite a response from any domain — air, land, sea or cyberspace.” The defense secretary explained the readiness and future plans of the Ministry of Defense at the Cyber 2017 Chatham House Conference. To start, “we will open a dedicated state-of-the-art Defence Cyber School at Shrivenham, bringing together all our military joint cyber training into one place,” he said.
The defense starts at home, he told listeners. “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.” According to the defense secretary—a member of the National Security Council—the internet blurred the boundaries between citizens and the military. He said that everyone now has a responsibility to look after themselves online.
The multi-billion dollar defense budget funded the investment towards “full spectrum capability.” He outlined that retaliation to cyberattacks could come from “carriers to Ajax armoured vehicles, fifth generation F35 to the latest UAVs.” Fallon spoke with confidence when referring to the UK’s skill and power to “expose cyber criminals, to them hunt down and to prosecute them.” And, “to respond in kind to any assault at a time of our choosing.”
The UK’s National Offensive Cyber Planning allows for the integration of cyber defense and attacks into the military. “Offensive cyber,” he claimed, is already being used in the war with Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Fallon Amason explained that the UK had honed their “cyber technique” in the the war against Daesh.
He concluded his speech by explaining that the government will have everything under control—over the next few years:
“So let me say in conclusion that cyber is a serious problem. It is a growing problem… Over the next few years we’re going to be redoubling our efforts to strengthen our resilience against our adversaries, to strengthen our hand against our cyber adversaries and to ensure those who mean to do our country harm, offline or online, have nowhere to hide.”
His words that day, especially with a massive cyberattack only hours later, brought mixed reactions. The most consistent theme, though, was that of precaution. He spoke of developing a new doctrine for responding to anonymously orchestrated cyberattacks—these attacks are in a “grey area” and below the threshold of war. Fallon wants military responses to these attacks.
The precaution and concern took the form of a warning: cyberattacks can easily be attributed falsely. Launching a drone-powered airstrike at an innocent party could elicit far worse repercussions.