In an interview with the Guardian, Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey has revealed the existence of a government funded cyber-weapon development project.
Speaking to the Guardian Harvey commented, "action in cyberspace will form part of the future battlefield". The minister described the new cyber-weapons as, ""an integral part of the country's armoury".
In the interview Harvey outlined his belief that cyberspace would become one of the century's biggest and most dangerous battlegrounds.
"The consequences of a well planned, well executed attack against our digital infrastructure could be catastrophic ... With nuclear or biological weapons, the technical threshold is high. With cyber the finger hovering over the button could be anyone from a state to a student."
Going on, Harvey commented, that in order to answer the threat, "We [the U.K.] need a toolbox of capabilities and that's what we are currently developing ... The circumstances and manner in which we would use them are broadly analogous to what we would do in any other domain."
While not detailing the exact nature of the new weapons and defences -- which remain top-secret -- Harvey did promise that the weapons would be developed using the same rules applied to standard military hardware. Supposedly meaning that they are being developed in accordance with current E.U. ethical guidelines.
While not explicitly revealed, Harvey did imply that Cabinet Office and the Cyber Security Operations Centre at GCHQ were taking the lead in the new weapons development.
The revelation comes just after Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's speech at the Google Zeitgeist earlier this month. In his speech, Osborne warned of the growing threat cyber-crime poses to the U.K., revealing that in 2010 alone the Government faced at least one "serious" cyber threat a day.
Already some other Government departments have taken action. The Ministry of Defence recently appointed General Jonathan Shaw to head a defence cyber-operations group.
Harvey's words add to the public's growing concern about cyber-threats.
Earlier this month Foreign Minister William Hague confirmed that the Foreign Office had been the target of just such an attack from, "a hostile state intelligence agency" -- this attack has widely been speculated to have originated from China.
While not on the scale a serious security breach on a government's systems could potentially have, many analysts have attributed the recent increase in public awareness about cyber-threats to Sony's ongoing PSN troubles.
In April the company fell victim to a successful cyber-attack on its PlayStation Network. The hackers responsible reportedly managed to break through the company's network security, gaining access to a potential 100 million user's account and billing information. The breach forced the company to deactivate its network, leading to a reported $177 million loss in revenue. The PSN is still yet to be fully reactivated.
These analysts have cited Sony's PSN disaster as an example of how damaging a successful cyber attack could be. Pointing out how if the hacking of a games console's network could lead to a $177 million loss for a company, the potential damage a similar attack could have on a part of the Government would be the stuff of nightmares.
The government is yet to release any official information regarding the nature of theses new weapons, or when they will be ready for use.