This week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled an integrated review called “Global Britain in a Competitive Age”, which has been in progress for over a year. Its main focuses are foreign policy, defense, and security – including cybersecurity, and will be used as a guide for future spending decisions, setting the UK’s goals for 2025.

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The Prime Minister has pledged to invest more money in defense in a multi-year settlement of £24 billion (around $33.4 billion), which represents a considerable share of Britain’s GDP.

To reaffirm our commitment to leadership in NATO, supporting its adaptation to threats above and below the threshold of war under international law. We will increase our defence budget by over £24 billion over the next four years and remain the largest European spender on defence in NATO, with our expenditure now standing at 2.2% of GDP.Global Britain in a competitive age. The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy

Additionally, up to £6.6 billion ($9.1 billion) will be employed to fund research and development to provide next-gen combat technologies such as drones, directed-energy weapons, and advanced high-speed missiles. But what the government seems to be particularly ambitious is in the area of ​​cybersecurity. Johnson promises to work on a new “full-spectrum” approach to UK cyber capabilities to better locate, obstruct and fight off enemies.

Cyberspace will be an increasingly contested domain, used by state and non-state actors. Proliferation of cyber capability to countries and organised crime groups, along with the growing everyday reliance on digital infrastructure, will increase the risks of direct and collateral damage to the UK. Consequently, cyber power will become increasingly important. There will be a struggle to shape the global digital environment between ‘digital freedom’ and ‘digital authoritarianism’, which will have significant implications for real-world governance.Global Britain in a competitive age. The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy

It’s no secret that technology has paved the way for new opportunities for threat actors to activate in cyberspace – hacking, disinformation, as well as online organized crime. They are constantly finding new ways of exploiting digital weaknesses, increasing security risks for the UK.

The cyber threat coming from foreign states has been brought to the government’s attention many times in the past. In 2020, Lieutenant-General James Hockenhull, the UK Chief of Defense Intelligence, warned against the rising challenge posed by Russia and China, stating that

Global players such as Russia and China continually challenge the existing order without prompting direct conflict, operating in the expanding grey-zone between war and peacetime. Conflict is bleeding into new domains, such as cyber and space, threatening our cohesion, our resilience, and our global interests.Chief of Defence Intelligence comments on threats the UK will face in coming decades

What’s more, a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) noted that  “Russia’s cyber capability, when combined with its willingness to deploy it in a malicious capacity, is a matter of grave concern, and poses an immediate and urgent threat to our national security”, providing examples of Russian cyberattackers infiltrating into the UK’s critical infrastructure through phishing attempts.

Besides creating a more secure online space, the UK’s cyber strategy will establish ways for the country to lay the groundwork on essential cyber power technologies, like microprocessors, quantum technologies, and new data transmission forms.

In addition, the UK’s cyber strategy will concentrate on obstructing adversaries’ activities, by imposing costs on them or rejecting them the ability to damage UK interests. This has come a long way from a purely defensive approach to cybersecurity.

The review also points out that the National Cyber Force (NCF), which will be located in Northern England, will be at the core of this offensive approach, creating a “cyber corridor” across the country. As a result, industry and universities in the north of the country will work alongside government forensic experts to prevent cyberattacks.

With the surge of online attacks, it’s unlikely that the UK government will relax its cybersecurity measures. The integrated review emphasized that the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has been constantly working to help protect businesses and citizens from cyberattacks and that the cybersecurity sector bears “over 1,200 companies and 43,000 skilled jobs across the UK”.

We will need to keep adapting, innovating, and investing to maintain and extend the UK’s competitive edge as a responsible, democratic cyber power. Technology is changing, as is the way individuals and organisations make use of it. Our allies and adversaries are also investing in their capabilities, with adversaries constantly finding ways to exploit it for their own ends.Global Britain in a competitive age. The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy
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