Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey said Britain is developing “virtual weapons” to counter growing threats to national security from online hackers.

According to him, the “cyber weapons programme” will provide the country with a “toolbox” of offensive options to counter online hackers targeting Britain’s critical services and government departments.

Though cyber weapons would not replace traditional weapons, the Minister said they would form “an integral part of the country’s armoury”. “Action in cyberspace will form part of the future battlefield. We need a toolbox of capabilities and that’s what we are currently developing,” ‘The Guardian’ newspaper quoted Harvey as saying.

Though the nature of the weapons being developed remains top secret, but the Minister confirmed they would be governed by the same rules that apply to the deployment of other military assets. “The circumstances and manner in which we would use them are broadly analogous to what we would do in any other domain,” the Minister and added that digital networks were now “at the heart of our transport, power and communications systems”, and this reliance had “brought the capacity for warfare to cyberspace”.

“The consequences of a well planned, 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,” he said.