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Cyber-Warfare Defence

Volume 632: debated on Monday 27 November 2017

We take cyber-attacks very seriously and are aware of the increasing threats. As part of the defence cyber programme, we are investing £265 million in a programme of cyber-vulnerability investigations for military equipment, building a new £40 million cyber-security operations centre, and ensuring that our people are fully equipped to meet the cyber challenge.

Is the Department looking at the recent Russian activity in this sphere, especially in Ukraine and Crimea, where it is clear that cyber-warfare has gone hand in glove with conventional warfare? The initiatives that the Minister has outlined today are very welcome, but does he understand that he also has to speak to and include other Departments, commercial interests and media outlets?

I was in Ukraine quite recently, and the right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. That is precisely why this has to be a cross-Government effort, and why we are spending some £1.9 billion on our national cyber-security strategy.

My constituents in GCHQ are on the front line of the UK’s cyber-defence, and they are among the brightest and the best. Recruiting and retaining people of exceptional ability does, however, require competitive levels of pay. May I urge my right hon. Friend and the Foreign Secretary to have that very much in mind when future decisions are made?

I was in my hon. Friend’s constituency quite recently at GCHQ, looking at the joint work that the MOD and GCHQ are carrying out together. He makes a reasonable point. That is why we are determined to invest in a career structure for cyber specialists, and we will be opening the defence cyber school at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham in January 2018.

Tweets are cheaper than tanks, and Russia, Iran and other state and non-state actors are increasingly looking to cyber and to social media as a cheap, effective way of destabilising the west. The Foreign Secretary told this House that he had seen no evidence of Russian interference in UK elections or the referendum. Has the Minister?

Let us be absolutely clear: there are limits on what we can discuss in this Chamber, and I think the hon. Lady will recognise that. In this age of constant competition, this country is under constant attack from both state and non-state actors, and this is a defence capability in which we are determined to continue to invest.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a trade-off between cyber and conventional capabilities is wrong; that the MOD needs to be capable of cyber, conventional and non-conventional forms of warfare; and that further cuts to our niche and specialist capabilities will do strategic harm to this country?

I certainly agree that this is not a binary choice. Indeed, perhaps it is more of a digital choice, as we look further on in the 21st century. That is why it is absolutely right that we are carrying out the national security and capability review, because as the threats intensify across the spectrum, we have to invest in those things.

I wonder whether the Minister heard BBC Radio 4’s “Profile” yesterday on Yevgeny Prigozhin, otherwise known as Putin’s chef, and his so-called troll factory in St Petersburg. If the Minister heard it, he should be very concerned indeed about Russia’s increasing efforts at cyber-warfare and the threat of disruption it poses to our democracy and the defence of the realm. What steps are he and the Department trying to take to minimise that serious Russian threat?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say that I did not hear that profile yesterday because I was at the 100th anniversary of Cambrai—the first use of the tank—in France, and a marvellous event it was, too. He makes a reasonable point, and I can only refer him to some of the comments I have made during this question about investment and how seriously we take the threat.