Alan Dee: A UK cyberstrike capability? I reckon we’ve all had our chips

Opinion - Alan Dee
Opinion - Alan Dee

Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether to laugh, to cry, or to snort with derision. The only certainty is that if you try to do all three at once, you’re liable to do yourself a mischief.

Yet what other reaction is there to the news that our mighty nation is developing what is politely being called an offensive cyber strike capability?

Yes, that’s right, our geeks and boffins have their heads down and are hard at work putting together programmes which, in the event of escalating unpleasantness, could be released into the great blue yonder and make all the computers in unfriendly hands fall over.

They are, you may be assured, also hard at work protecting our own PCs and sensitive networks against similar intrusion, because it would be rather inconvenient if all our high-tech systems failed to play ball at the all-important moment.

But let’s be honest, what confidence can we have in our leaders to get this one right?

Even the best-prepared computer programmes are famously fickle.

At the end of the day it’s all down to the people who write the code, and a misplaced keystroke somewhere among the millions of instructions can cause cock-ups all along the line.

The biggest names in computer power have found to their cost that every release of new software is immediately followed by a chorus of complaint about things going wrong in all sorts of ways, and a frantic period of patching and fixing to get the latest version of the programme up to speed.

And that, mind you, is what you get from megacorporations who are prepared to spend gazillions on research and pay top dollar for the very best techy talent.

So while defence secretary Philip Hammond may have taken the bold step of admitting that we are – and these are his words, not mine – “developing a full spectrum military cyber capability, including a strike capability, to engage the UK’s range of military capabilities” all I can think of is the the sorry catalogue of government computer projects which have either failed to deliver, ended up costing far more than they should or were just quietly abandoned at the cost of millions upon millions of wasted pounds.

Remember that fabled joined-up data system that was going to link up the entire NHS and make everyone’s records much more easily accessible to the right people, to make treatment quicker and more appropriate? £10 billion that one cost us before it was kicked into touch.

And that’s just the worst of a series of hugely expensive schemes that ran into the megabyte buffers.

On top of that is Mr Hammond’s fond expectation that hundreds of computer experts will need to be taken on as reservists in the armed forces.

So there you have it – when the big push comes, whoever is manning the red phone in the war room will have to be patched through some nerdy Call Of Duty veteran sitting on a helpdesk somewhere, only to be asked, as the minutes tick down and networks crash all over the country, whether he has turned it off and turned it on again. Reassured? I think not...