National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill has said that the UK’s defence expenditure should be focussed more on cyber security than on ensuring more boots on the ground.
Sedwill has said the UK must respond to cyber-attacks emanating from Russia with the weapon of its choice.
Ahead of the upcoming defence spending review, National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill has called for an increased focus on cyber security than on ensuring more boots on the ground. He also warned the parliament’s National Security Strategy Committee about the threat posed by Russia and Russian hackers and how the UK can respond to the threat.
In an outburst directed at Russia, Sedwill said that the country is conducting cyber operations to undermine British democracy, to sow dissension, and to reduce the faith people have in the UK’s systems.
‘We know that the Russian threat is definitely intensifying and diversifying. The Russian attitude has worsened more generally towards the West, and that seems set to continue,’ he said. His comments aren’t much different to what Ciaran Martin, the chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, said a few months ago about the Russian cyber threat.
‘The prime minister made the point on Monday night – international order as we know it is in danger of being eroded. This is clearly a cause for concern and the NCSC is actively engaging with international partners, industry and civil society to tackle this threat,’ he said at an event organised by The Times in November.
Aside from detailing out the threat posed by Russia and its hackers, Sedwill also talked about how the UK needs to respond to the threat in order to ensure that Russia won’t conduct cyber operations against the UK in the future. Basically, he said that the UK must use a weapon of its own choice rather than engage Russia in a tit-for-tat cyber exchange.
‘Let’s think about the Russian example: if we are hit with a cyber and propaganda attack, probably a deniable one, maybe from a non-state actor whom they will disavow all knowledge of — even if it was on their behalf — the correct response might not be in the same area of operations.
‘The correct response might be to push back or disrupt an entirely different area where we are exploiting our strengths and their weakness. Read your Sun Tzu: you choose to fight on ground of your choosing if you possibly can, rather than of theirs,’ he said.
While Sedwill did not explain what the UK’s weapon of choice is, he said that the UK has a clear advantage over Russia when it comes to having international friends and allies.
‘One of the assets the Russians don’t have is allies. If you put together the British, French, and German defence budgets…it is about twice the Russian defence budget,’ he said.
While it is true that Russia doesn’t enjoy a NATO-esque international support, it seems unlikely that Germany and France would join the UK in a military conflict with Russia in the near future. As such, while Sedwill is right in asking for more money to be invested in cyber security, he must also come up with clear actions plans which the UK can resort to when faced with a damaging cyber-attack in the future.