Britain must be “clear-eyed” about China’s ambitions in the technology sector and be alert to the threat it poses, the head of the UK’s cyber security centre said on Friday.
In her first speech as chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Lindy Cameron outlined the cyber threats the UK is facing.
“The National Cyber Security Centre – launched five years ago – is now a firmly embedded part of the UK cyber security landscape, and here to stay.” Lindy Cameron, NCSC CEO.
— NCSC UK (@NCSC) March 26, 2021
In July 2020, Foreign Secretary Raab said he was “deeply concerned” over evidence that “China is engaged in malicious cyberattacks against commercial, medical, and academic institutions, including those working to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.”
“Recent global cyber incidents involving SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange have shown the range of cyber threats we currently face,” Cameron said in a virtual speech to an audience at Queen’s University, Belfast.
Microsoft said earlier this month that a China-linked cyber-espionage group had been remotely plundering email inboxes using freshly discovered flaws in Microsoft mail server software, causing a global wave of cyberattacks and data breaches.
Late last year, U.S. government systems were breached following the hack of SolarWinds, which U.S. federal agencies said was instigated by Russia for “intelligence gathering.”
“In cyber—like in other areas of security—Russia poses the most acute and immediate threat to the UK,” Cameron said.
“But—as the Integrated Review makes clear—we must be clear-eyed about Chinese ambition in technological advancement,” she said.
“China will change the world we live in in a much more fundamental way than Russia will,” Cameron told reporters.
In its “Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy” published on March 16, the British government said: “China’s increasing power and international assertiveness is likely to be the most significant geopolitical factor of the 2020s.”
“The scale and reach of China’s economy, size of its population, technological advancement and increasing ambition to project its influence on the global stage, for example through the Belt and Road Initiative, will have profound implications worldwide,” it said.
In addition to China and Russia, Cameron said North Korea and Iran have also been publicly named as “having undertaken hostile activity in cyberspace.”
“We continue to be alert to the threat that these states—and others—pose to the UK,” she said.
The NCSC, a part of the UK’s GCHQ intelligence agency that was set up in 2017, is charged with protecting the nation from cyber-attacks.
Since then, it has dealt with “over 2,000 significant incidents ranging from high sophistication covert state-sponsored attacks to criminal ones with major public impact,” said Cameron.
In November 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the formation of the National Cyber Force (NCF), which will work alongside the NCSC and conduct cyber operations to disrupt hostile state activities, counter-terror plots, and support military operations.
Reuters contributed to this report.