October 2013 saw the Ministry of Defence stand-up a new kind of Reserve unit, the Cyber Reserve. Our anonymous author is a serving officer in the Joint Cyber Unit (Reserve) and BCS member, and gives some insight into the way the new unit is being set up and asks: could you join?

Globally, governments and militaries have an increasing dependence on cyber - the people, hardware and software that supports the flow and management of information. This increasing dependence is providing adversaries with new and more exploitable opportunities.

The United Kingdom’s Armed Forces depend on computer networks, both at home and on operations around the world. The Ministry of Defence is working hard and investing to counter the rapidly developing threats to these networks from cybercrime, espionage, terrorism and warfare, including making commitments of £145 million over five years on specific cyber defence improvements.

Back in 2011 the UK Government released the Future Reserves 2020 Paper which recognised that a Cyber Reserve was needed to defend against this growth of the cyber threat. It stated that ‘Defence will need to engage additional civilian experts’ recognising that ‘this may involve outreach to skills in IT firms’.

It wasn’t until October 2013 that Cyber Reserve recruitment started in earnest, with the Defence Secretary at the time - Philip Hammond - announcing applicants were being accepted. He said, ‘The Cyber Reserves will be an essential part of ensuring we defend our national security in cyberspace. This is an exciting opportunity for internet experts in industry to put their skills to good use for the nation, protecting our vital computer systems and capabilities.’

Responding to the challenge

With these high expectations, the new Reserve unit needed the support of senior military staff and the Single Services to be a success, especially as the unit was looking to recruit people for their cyber-cognitive or thinking abilities, and recognises that physical fitness is not an essential requirement in every case to be able to conduct operations in cyberspace.

The Single Services embraced the need for flexibility in the eligibility criteria in order to attract those who could not have been considered previously or may not have volunteered in the past. It meant that the Cyber Reserve has been able to, and continues to, recruit on a case-by-case basis including many individuals who would have been excluded under the previous rules. The Unit has been able to accept the ‘best of the best’ based on their talent, skills and expertise to meet cyber threats, often gained through cutting-edge cyber security experience outside.

Following the Defence Secretary’s announcement interest in joining the Cyber Reserve has been extremely positive, both in terms of the quality and quantity of applications received. Recruits have come from all walks of life, with the unit attracting a wide-spectrum of society, from Service leavers, government departments, academia, private sector and individuals with backgrounds you might not normally associate with cyber.

A common theme across applications has been the motivation to help promote UK security and the opportunity work in a new and challenging area with experiences beyond their ‘day job’.

How it works

Once recruited, a Cyber Reserve goes through a bespoke and streamlined package of courses that have been designed to prepare them for their arrival into Defence’s Joint Cyber and Information Assurance Units, whilst also recognising that they are already professional experts in their field. The training allows them to meet their new colleagues, whilst providing the defence context to their new Cyber Reservist roles to enable them to take up their post far earlier than traditional Reservist training allows.

The value of the Cyber Reserves was recognised by Vice Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach KCB CBE ADC during a visit to the new recruits. He said: ‘Bletchley Park and the Y Service are examples of the strong tradition of Reserves coming to the fore in time of national need. Success was achieved because the military harnessed this wealth of talent and experience. This remains the approach for the Cyber Reserves and your broad church of expertise and experience will help turn the puzzles that cyber presents into solutions.’

Today the Cyber Reservists are working alongside regular colleagues, supporting defence’s cyber security. They are taking part in training, exercises and operations helping to assure the safety of critical computer networks, information systems and data by drawing upon the unique skills, experience and expertise that they employ on a day-to-day basis in civilian life. The recruits also get the opportunity to partake in wider service-life experiences such as adventurous training, travel or overseas exercises.

The SO1 of the Joint Cyber Unit (Reserve), Lt Col Michael White, reported, ‘I have been impressed by the level of motivation shown by the recruits during their first real extended exposure to military life. Many have said that they want to give something back to society and specifically they see cyber as being an area where the UK, including the military, is under threat; this is their area of expertise and where they feel they can provide support.

Another common thread is that they applied to the Joint Cyber Unit (Reserve) because there were no other reserve units that they felt would have been able to make best use of their skills.

‘Service in the Cyber Reserve offers a great opportunity for Service leavers and those who have never served in the armed forces alike. We are still taking expressions of interest and applications as we are always looking to recruit high calibre individuals with the suitable level of knowledge, skills, experience and aptitude.’

So perhaps you could be one those new recruits?

Going forward

The next two years will see the Joint Cyber Unit (Reserve) fully operational, with personnel recruited, trained and operating alongside regular and civilian colleagues in cyber and information assurance units. The creation of the Cyber Reserve also supports the wider work the Ministry of Defence is doing to recruit more reserves through Future Reserves 2020.

Interested?

As one recent recruit put it, ‘This is a fantastic opportunity to serve Queen and country and be at the front of a national security initiative to protect our country in cyberspace. I really enjoyed meeting and working with other like-minded individuals who have the same motivation and experience.'

Perhaps you would like the opportunity to be one of those like-minded individuals. To apply visit www.gov.uk and search for ‘Cyber Reserve'.