The UK is facing a “moment of reckoning” around its cybersecurity because of the rising technology threat from countries such as Russia and China, the head of GCHQ has said.
Jeremy Fleming warned that the UK’s prosperity and security are at stake because “significant technology leadership” is “moving east”.
Speaking at the opening of the CyberUK virtual conference, the GCHQ director said the country’s cybersecurity industry must take action and keep evolving its defences to ensure UK and global safety.
“Without action, it is increasingly apparent that the key technologies on which we rely for prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West,” he said.
“We can see significant technology leadership is moving east, is causing a conflict of interests, of values, where prosperity and security are at stake.
“And it follows that cybersecurity is an increasingly strategic issue, that needs a whole-of- nation approach if we are to continue to reap the benefits of technology.”
Mr Fleming’s warning comes amid wider political tensions between powers in the West and East.
Most notably, the UK and its allies have in recent months accused Russia of targeting healthcare organisations working on coronavirus vaccines.
The pandemic itself has been a pivotal moment for cybersecurity, Mr Fleming said, highlighting how reliant people are on technology, data and connectivity.
But he warned that bad actors have seen this reliance too, and are increasingly looking to use the pandemic as a way of carrying out attacks.
A report by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), published on Monday, showed that the organisation had taken down more than 700,000 online scams and 1.4 million URLs in the last year.
The report found there had been a 15-fold rise in the removal of online campaigns compared with 2019, with many scams linked to the NHS or Covid-19.
The NCSC also said that it had received more than 5.8 million reports to its suspicious email reporting service, including details on 80,000 scams it said it had not seen before.
“The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change, both in terms of threats and our response, and cyber is underpinning more and more of our lives,” Mr Fleming said.
“Innovations in technology have made it even more central to our societies and data has become the crown jewels that we must protect, but it’s easy to see that all of this had also enabled our adversaries.
“The result is that cybersecurity is even more relevant to our economy, to our society and, increasingly, to our security.”