THE fight against cyber gangs and hostile state hackers is as vitals as the nation’s counter-terror measures, the director of GCHQ has warned.
Jeremy Fleming, who has heralded the decision of the spy agency to “come out of the shadows”, claimed the threat to Britain from cyber-criminals is growing as the internet even more integrated into the Britons everyday lives.
His comments come after the WannaCry ransomware attack brought the NHS to its knees – and a hack on parliament put the nation’s democratic institutions at risk.
Mr Fleming said: “The biggest changes are shaped by the speed of technological advances, in particular, the internet.
“These shifts are affecting virtually everyone on the planet.
“They offer amazing potential for individuals, communities, business and countries – friends and foes alike.
“Our task in GCHQ is to help make sure that the UK benefits from this technological revolution, by protecting the nation from those who want to use the internet to cause harm.
“We all derive great benefit from the ease and speed of connecting across the planet and from the additional security provided by default encryption.
“But hostile states, terrorists and criminals use those same features – instant connectivity and encrypted communications – to undermine our national security, attack our interests and, increasingly, commit crime.
“If GCHQ is to continue to help keep the country safe, then protecting the digital homeland – keeping our citizens safe and free online – must become and remain as much part of our mission as our global intelligence reach and our round-the-clock efforts against terrorism.”
The work of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is set to become even more vital as the UK strives to become a world leader in online trade after Brexit.
Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Fleming added: “In my view, the Government was right to house the NCSC in GCHQ.
“Over the past year it has responded to nearly 600 significant incidents requiring a national, coordinated response.
“In dealing with these cases, from the WannaCry ransomware affecting the NHS through the attack on Parliament to lesser-known but important compromises and criminal attacks, the NCSC drew on GCHQ’s data, analytical capabilities, skills and partnerships, which help us to prevent attacks as well as respond to them.
It comes after security chiefs revealed the UK has been hit by more than 500 “significant” cyber attacks in the last year.
Experts at the NCSC registered 1,131 incidents in the 12 months since the organisation began work in October 2016.
Officials classed 590 of the reported incidents as significant, with more than 30 assessed serious enough to require a cross-government response.
Organisations targeted over the year ranged from key national institutions to small and large businesses.
NCSC chief executive Ciaran Martin described the cyber threat as “large, growing and diverse” – and warned further attacks are inevitable.
He said: “Cybersecurity is crucial to our national security and to our prosperity.
“We’re incredibly proud of what we have achieved in our first year at the National Cyber Security Centre, bringing together some of the best cyber-security brains in the country in a single place.
“But the threat remains very real and growing – further attacks will happen and there is much more for us to do to make the UK the safest place in the world to live and do business online.”