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China and Russia could win ‘moment of reckoning’ over control of internet unless UK evolves, GCHQ warns

The UK and its allies risk losing control of the internet and the security of future technologies to China and Russia, who have a different and competing vision of the future, according to the head of GCHQ

Unless decisive action is taken, “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,” Jeremy Fleming is due to warn in a keynote speech on Friday.

Mr Fleming will say that the UK is a world leader in cyberdefence, and that the recently created National Cyber Force has substantially bolstered the country’s ability to carry out offensive cyber operations against hostile states and terrorist groups. A robust technological sector and world-class universities will provide the next generation of expertise.

“Taken together, all this means that today the UK really is a global cyberpower – a big animal in the digital world”, the director general of GCHQ is to say.

He will caution, however, that “historical strength does not mean we can assume we will be so strong in the future … In the natural world, during a period of rapid change, the only option is to adapt, and it’s the same for us.”

The integrated review of security, defence and foreign policy, which was published last month and was described as the most important blueprint of the country’s strategy for the international stage in recent history, placed cyber in a key role.

Boris Johnson declared that “cyber power is revolutionising the way we live our lives and fight our wars, just as air power did 100 years ago. Our new, full-spectrum approach to cyber will transform our ability to protect our people, promote our interests around the world and make the lives of British people better every day.”

Delivering the Vincent Briscoe annual security lecture at Imperial College London, Mr Fleming will say: “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 impact far beyond physical size.” 

“That influence and advantage needs 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 a safer, stronger and more prosperous UK, as set out in the integrated review.”

Among the measures needed to safeguard the future, the GCHQ chief will say, will be the continued development of sovereign technologies, including quantum cryptography, used to hold the country’s most sensitive information.

Working with allies on cyberdefence and establishing international standards and laws in cyberspace to protect research and supply chains is also imperative, as is fostering the right market conditions for innovation, a broad set of technologies, and diversity of supply.

“If we get it right, new policies, informed by deep expertise, will influence and shape markets – protecting and growing the most critical technologies. Government will create new markets, focusing investment on the sectors and technologies that are best for the UK,” Mr Fleming will say.

With that firm base, Britain “will work with other like-minded nations to pool resources and knowledge to target the global ‘moonshots’. Taken together, this adds up to a plan for the creation of a strategic advantage for the UK and our allies based on the rule of law, shared ethics, and common good.”


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