THE armed forces are now so dependent on information technology that their ability to operate could be “fatally compromised” by a sustained cyber attack, MPs warned yesterday.
The Commons Defence Committee said the cyber threat to UK security had the ability to evolve at “almost unimaginable speed” and questioned whether the government could cope.
It called on ministers to take a more hands-on approach to put in place contingency plans.
The committee heard entire combat units, including aircraft and warships, could be rendered useless by a cyber attack.
Experts warned an enemy could seek to target radar or satellites to create a “deceptive picture” in the military command structure, while the increased use of unmanned drones and battlefield robots potentially added to the vulnerability.
“The evidence we received leaves us concerned that with the armed forces now so dependent on information and communications technology, should such systems suffer a sustained cyber attack, their ability to operate could be fatally compromised,” the committee said.
In a report published today it added: “In its response, the government should set out details of the contingency plans it has in place should such an attack occur. If it has none, it should say so – and urgently create some.”
The committee accused ministers of “complacency” over the failure to develop rules of engagement covering the military response to a cyber attack on the UK.
“Events in cyberspace happen at great speed. There will not be time, in the midst of a major international incident, to develop doctrine, rules of engagement or internationally accepted norms of behaviour,” it said. “There is clearly still much work to be done on determining what type or extent of cyber attack would warrant a military response.”
Committee chairman James Arbuthnot said: “It is our view that cyber security is a sufficiently urgent, significant and complex activity to warrant increased ministerial attention.
“The government needs to put in place – as it has not yet done – mechanisms, people, education, skills, thinking and policies which take into account both the opportunities and the vulnerabilities which cyberspace presents.”
Defence minister Andrew Murrison rejected accusations of complacency, saying the government was investing £650 million over four years in a national cyber security strategy programme.
“The UK armed forces and the equipment and assets they use are amongst the world’s most modern and advanced, so of course information technology plays a vital role in their operation,” he said. “Far from being complacent, the MoD takes the protection of our systems extremely seriously and has a range of contingency plans in place to defend against increasingly sophisticated attacks.
“Government funding to tackle this threat underlines the importance we attach to these issues.”