The Director at GCHQ says that the UK must build cyber-resilience to stop nation-states from dominating emerging technologies.
Speaking at the annual Imperial College Vincent Briscoe Annual Security Lecture last week (April 23), Jeremy Fleming told attendees that countries like China could begin to shape the future of technological development, potentially advancing past the western world.
He warned that western nations face a “moment of reckoning,” and may no longer have a role in the shaping of critical technologies, such as cybersecurity, unless action is taken now.
Fleming commented: “Cybersecurity is an increasingly strategic issue that needs a whole-nation approach. The rules are changing in ways not always controlled by the government.
“And without action, it is increasingly clear that the key technologies on which we will rely for our future prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West. We are now facing a moment of reckoning.”
He also said that it is now vital that the UK begin investing in new technologies to remain an important player in the tech landscape, such as quantum cryptography, artificial intelligence and genetics.
Despite the UK already being a world-leading “responsible” cyber power, Fleming said that challenges produced by countries like China and Russia mean that it must be putting checks in place to ensure the freedom of the internet and the security of future tech.
According to Fleming, China is seeking to “control the global operating system” and is the facilitator of emerging tech that is “changing the digital environment”.
Fleming said: “Today, in the digital environment, the UK has evolved to thrive. We may be geographically small but we are the world’s fifth-largest economy and a global trading nation with an impact far beyond physical size.
“That influence and advantage need to be constantly reinvented. The country’s prosperity and security, the quality of life of its citizens, and the influence the government is able to project are all heavily dependent on the benefits derived from interconnected, digital technologies.
“But that advantage comes from other things, too: we are world leaders in cyber defence through the NCSC. The National Cyber Force is transforming the UK’s cyber capabilities to disrupt adversaries through cyberspace. We have a strong tech sector and world-class universities training the next generation in science and tech.
“Taken together, all this means that today, the UK really is a global cyber power – a big animal in the digital world. But historic strength does not mean we can assume we will be in the future.”
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Nation-states actors from countries such as Russia, China and North Korea have been the arbiters of several major cyberattacks over the last, particularly at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
The recent SolarWinds attack, believed to have been carried out by hackers backed by the Russian state, is an example of the damage that can be done if these threats are not kept in check. Hackers targeted The US Treasury and Commerce departments, as well as the Pentagon.
Last year, it was reported that hackers based in an unknown nation-state targeted coronavirus vaccine cold-supply networks, as well as reports of North Korean and Russian hackers ramping up attempts to steal vital vaccine research.
Fleming said that he would back the government’s recent call for a full-spectrum approach to security policy to help the UK adapt to the cybersecurity challenges face by the UK.
“As a country, we need to be using all the levers and tools at our disposal to shape and grow key technologies and markets,” Fleming said.
“We must do that in a way that helps protect the nation and open society. And that means becoming better at using the power of the state to both foster and protect brilliant developments in technology.”