Western Nations Face A ‘moment of reckoning’ Over Cyber Security

Western nations are unlikely to have a role in the shaping of critical technologies, such as cyber security, unless meaningful action is taken, says  the head of the British intelligence spy agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming.  He believes Britain must adapt to face global threats and calls for ‘whole nation approach’ and adapt its cyber security measures in the face of increasing developments abroad. 

The West must urgently act to ensure that China does not dominate the key technologies of the 21st Century or hostile states could take control of the world’s global operating system, according to Britain’s chief cyber spy.

Britain and its allies face a “moment of reckoning” in which secure encryption and other future technologies may no longer be “shaped and controlled by the west”, according to Fleming who also says that the UK has to “develop sovereign technologies” and work with allies to “build better cyberdefences” to prosper in the future.

Although Fleming does not mention China by name, his remarks are largely aimed at Beijing’s growing strength in high technology, revealed recently by the row over the deployment of Huawei kit in Britain’s 5G mobile phone networks.

There are also growing concerns about Russian state-sponsored hacking. This is showing signs of increasing sophistication, as demonstrated by the recent exploitation of a vulnerability in SolarWinds software used in several US government departments. “Cybersecurity is an increasingly strategic issue that needs a whole-nation approach. The rules are changing in ways not always controlled by government,” Fleming is expected to say in a speech at Imperial College London. “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.”

Fleming says that Britain needs to ensure a diversity of supply in technologies that underpin the country’s security and prosperity - a coded reference to Huawei, which over a period of nearly 20 years gradually became the market-leading telecoms equipment supplier, prompting fears that it would crowd out western rivals.

The principal technologies that Fleming believes the UK must maintain a foothold in include ultra-high-speed quantum computing, and also areas such as artificial intelligence and bioscience, whose significance has been underscored in vaccine development during the coronavirus pandemic.

Policymakers, academics and teachers also need to help foster the scientific and technical skills the country needs, with an emphasis on “diversity of thought”, the spy chief will argue. Not keeping pace with China and Russia would have consequences, despite the UK’s “strong tech sector” and “world-class universities” that help make Britain “a global cyberpower” today. “Historic strength does not mean we can assume we will be in the future,” Fleming warned.

The speech reflects concerns in the British intelligence community that the country has too readily given up its strategic advantage in areas of emerging technology, through the sale of startups or even established businesses to foreign owners

.But there are signs that warnings like Fleming’s are now being taken seriously, with the proposed $40bn takeover of the Cambridge-based chipmaker Arm Holdings by  US company, Nvidia being referred to the Competition and Markets Authority on national security grounds. Furthermore, the UK government plans to introduce a National Security & Investment Bill that will introduce sweeping powers to restrict deals involving foreign firms.

"If we don't control the technology,” Fleming warned, “if we don't understand the security required to implement those effectively, then we'll end up with an environment or technology ecosystem where the data is not only used to navigate, but it could be used to track us".

According to Fleming, there are only a relatively small number of areas where the UK would need to completely control a technology and more broadly working with allies would be essential to shape international standards and to defend itself in cyberspace. The UK has to invest in skills and innovation. The UK should not be "fatalistic", he said, and had a "very strong track record" of meeting technology challenges.

GCHQ:       Reuters:    Guardian:        BBC:     Imperial College:     Computer Weekly:    ITPro:   ChannelWeb:

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