Another day, another government IT cock-up as minister admits writing off MoD's £46m anti-hacking system

Decision taken after cost of the Cipher project threatened to rise even higher

The Ministry of Defence wasted nearly £50m on a cancelled cryptographic system to protect top-secret military information from the growing threat of cyber attack.

Critics of the MoD yesterday seized on the department's "shocking waste", which adds to millions of pounds spent on a series of collapsed plans for the department.

The Cipher project, run by the French electronics giant Thales, was axed last year after the forecast budget for assessment costs alone more than trebled from £19m to £66m. The MoD has now admitted, however, that it had already spent £46m before ministers finally accepted that Cipher would neither provide the comprehensive cyber security needed nor prove value for money.

Philip Dunne, a Defence minister, admitted the true cost in a Parliamentary answer to Angus Robertson, the Scottish National Party's leader in Westminster.

Mr Robertson, who is the SNP's defence spokesman, said: "This is a shocking waste of taxpayer's money at a time when the MoD simply cannot afford it. Cyber security is clearly a major priority, so proper financial management of this project should have been all the more important.

"This is the kind of make-it-up-as-you-go-along muddle from the MoD that we are becoming accustomed to, and they now have some more difficult questions to answer."

Recent MoD waste included £29m paid to consultants on an aborted semi-privatisation of the department's weapons and military kit-buying arm, the Bristol-based Defence Equipment & Support.

However, the MoD will still have to improve its cyber defences, as state-backed hacking has developed into one of the most serious threats to national security around the world. In 2011, the Cabinet Office estimated that cyber crime was costing the British economy £27bn a year, with criminal gangs targeting the big banks to steal money from customer accounts.

A spokesperson for the MoD said: "Cipher was a project looking at how best to protect the MoD's communications networks against potential cyber attacks. The work carried out on Cipher is informing a new programme still in its early phases."

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