Britain develops cyber attack powers to take on IS

British Finance Minister George Osborne says Islamic State militants trying to plot potentially deadly cyber attacks.

CHELTENHAM, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (NOVEMBER 17, 2015) (UK POOL) – British spies are developing an offensive cyber capability to attack terrorists, hackers and rogue states, finance minister George Osborne said on Tuesday (November 17) after warning Islamic State militants wanted to launch deadly cyber attacks of their own.

Osborne said Islamic State (IS) fighters were trying to develop the ability to attack Britain’s infrastructure such as hospitals and air traffic control systems with potentially lethal consequences.

In response to this threat and others, Britain was creating its own offensive cyber capability so spies could launch counter attacks, he said.

“ISIL’s (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) murderous brutality has a strong digital element. At a time when so many others are using the Internet to enhance freedom and give expression to liberal values and creativity, they are using it for evil. Let’s be clear – ISIL are already using the internet for hideous propaganda purposes, for radicalisation, for operational planning, too,” Osborne said in a speech at Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – the country’s eavesdropping agency.

He said Friday’s (November 13) attacks in Paris, which killed at least 129 people and were claimed by IS, had underscored the need to improve Britain’s protection against electronic attack.

IS was already using the internet for propaganda, to radicalise people and for planning purposes, said Osborne, Prime Minister David Cameron’s close ally.

“They have not so far been able to use it to kill people by attacking our infrastructure through cyber attack. They do not yet have that capability, but we know they want it and we know they’re doing their best to build it. So when we talk about tackling ISIL, that means tackling their cyber threat as well as the threat of their guns and their bombs and their knives,” he said.

Osborne said public spending on cyber security would be almost doubled to a total of 1.9 billion pounds ($2.9 billion) over the period to 2020, even as he prepares to announce fresh overall spending cuts next week in a bid to return Britain to a budget surplus by the end of the decade.

“And all this is reflected in the cyber breaches that we see being reported with increasing frequency and increasing severity. Last summer GCHQ dealt with one hundred cyber national security instances per month. This summer the figure was two hundred a month. Each of these attacks damages companies, their customers and their public’s trust in our collective ability to keep their data and their privacy safe,” he said.

Cameron said on Monday (November 16) that the size of Britain’s intelligence agency staff would be increased by 15 percent.

Osborne said the decision to ramp up cyber defence funding had been taken before Friday’s bloodshed in Paris.

A new national cyber security plan drawn up by the government would feature a dedicated force to ensure faster and more effective responses to major online attacks. The force would be based at GCHQ in Cheltenham, southwest England.

Other elements of the plan included possible cooperation between internet service providers, with help from the government, to fend off malware attacks and block bad addresses used against British internet users, as well as a new institute to train coders, Osborne said.

British broadband provider TalkTalk suffered a cyber attack in October which affected 157,000 customers. This month, Britain and U.S. authorities carried out a drill with leading banks to test their response to a cyber incident in the financial sector.