“Cybersecurity is an increasingly strategic issue that needs a whole-nation approach. The rules are changing in ways not always controlled by government.
“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.”
– Jeremy Fleming’s speech notes as reported in the Guardian.
Fleming heads GCHQ; the UK spy agency. It provides the UK government with signals intelligence.
China in the cybersecurity frame
He doesn’t mention China by name in these speech notes. Yet it is clear that’s what he means when he talks about the west not shaping key technologies.
There is no other plausible candidate.
“China’s size and technological weight means that it has the potential to control the global operating system”.
Fleming’s main cybersecurity concern is China, but he has strong words to say about Russia. It has sophisticated world-class state-sponsored hacking. Russia was behind the attacks on the SolarWinds software used by US government departments.
He says China is working on emerging technologies, but it has a competing vision of the future. It’s a vision that doesn’t respect liberal western thinking.
His answer is for the west to develop its own technologies. He also wants allies to work more closely to build better cyber defence networks.
Up to a point this is an extension of the earlier campaign against Huawei. That resulted in western governments banning the company from building strategic 5G cellular networks.
At the same time it reflects increased tension between China and the west.
There’s a deepening rivalry between China and America. Western nations are being asked to pick sides. This now extends beyond commerce, both sides have increased their military activity.
Russia is opportunistic and threatens Eastern European nations. That presents the rest of Europe with a security problem.
Behind these rivalries nations are fighting a tech war online. Many of the threats facing computer users come from state controlled teams.
There’s a mood swing against globalisation and world wide technology supply chains.
Many tech companies have become dependent on China. That presents western countries with a diplomatic problem.
It make it harder for them to criticise Chinese aggression or human rights abuses. There’s always a threat China could turn the manufacturing tap off.
The UK is preparing legislation that will allow the government to block foreign take-overs. That’s another step away from the liberal economic model that has dominated the last 30-odd years.
None of this will pass New Zealand by. We’re in a difficult spot. We are caught between our traditional alliances and our trade relationship with China.
It’s going to be a bumpy ride.