Defence secretary Philip Hammond has announced that the government is creating a new Joint Cyber Reserve (JCR) made up of computer experts who will work alongside regular forces to protect the nation's cyber defences.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) will recruit "hundreds" of computer experts as cyber reservists to protect the UK's critical computer networks and safeguard vital data.Cyber attacks were identified as a 'tier one' threat in the government's 2010 National Security Risk Assessment. This is the same category assigned to international terrorism, an international military crisis and a major accident or natural hazard requiring a national response.

Hammond said that it would be an "exciting opportunity" for IT experts working in industry to "put their skills to good use for the nation".

He said: "In response to the growing cyber threat, we are developing a full-spectrum military cyber capability, including a strike capability, to enhance the UK's range of military capabilities. Increasingly, our defence budget is being invested in high-end capabilities such as cyber and intelligence and surveillance assets to ensure we can keep the country safe."

As well as targeting cyber security experts with no previous military experience, the MoD will recruit regular personnel leaving the Armed Forces and current and former reservists with the necessary skills.

The creation of the Joint Cyber Reserve will represent a "significant" increase in the number of current reservists employed in cyber and information assurance, the MoD said. The new centre will provide support to the Joint Cyber Units in Corsham and Cheltenham, as well as other information assurance units across the department.

Recruitment for the Joint Cyber Reserve will begin in October.

Earlier this month, GCHQ, the UK's communications centre, launched an online challenge for hopeful cyber spies to solve a series of complex codes across the web with the aim of securing a job with the agency.