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Strong cyber security defences are vital to UK prosperity, says GCHQ boss

GCHQ chief Sir Jeremy Fleming has said strong cybersecurity is needed to protect the UK, now more than ever, because of global economic concerns and Russia’s war in Ukraine (Hannah McKay/PA)
GCHQ chief Sir Jeremy Fleming has said strong cybersecurity is needed to protect the UK, now more than ever, because of global economic concerns and Russia’s war in Ukraine (Hannah McKay/PA)

Strong cyber security is needed to protect the UK, now more than ever, because of global economic concerns and Russia’s war in Ukraine, the head of GCHQ has said.

Sir Jeremy Fleming told the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) CyberUK conference in Newport, Wales, that the current “serious global economic situation” means “the need to make the UK the safest place to live and do business online is ever more relevant”.

The GCHQ director said the UK must continue to focus on cyber criminals and other bad actors who are constantly adapting their tactics in an effort to make money through illegal activities.

He said the National Cyber Force (NCF) – a partnership between GCHQ and the Ministry of Defence – has been working to “disrupt” cyber crime and has done so on an “immense scale”.

He also warned that the UK and other countries that are standing with Ukraine against Russia’s ongoing invasion must continue to boost their own cyber security capabilities.

He said GCHQ has seen indications that “Russia’s cyber operatives continue to look for targets in countries that oppose their actions”.

“There’s plenty of cyber about, including a range of activity we and partners have attributed to Russia,” he said.

“We’ve seen what looks like some spillover of activity affecting other countries.

“That’s why we have increased our efforts to ensure UK businesses and Government urgently improve levels of cyber resilience.

“And why, with our allies, we will continue to support Ukraine in shoring up their cyber defences.”

Sir Jeremy also confirmed that later this month, the Attorney General would set out the Government’s latest legal views on the potential use of cyber capabilities in an offensive sense.

He said the NCF was already improving the UK’s defences and “imposing a cost on our adversaries”.

“Ultimately, what sets us apart from these adversaries is not what capabilities we have but how we use them in a legally proportionate and ethical way,” he said.

“The UK has led the way on this thinking and later this month, the Attorney General will set out the Government’s latest legal views on the responsible use of cyber capabilities.”

Speaking at the two-day cyber security conference, the intelligence chief said the UK is constantly working at domestic level to protect the public and businesses from cyber criminals.

“Alongside our partners, we have mounted operations to undermine their networks, and prevent them from profiting from their crimes, as well as denying them access to their cyber tools and malware,” he said.

“In real life, this means tens of millions of pounds in potential fraud against the UK economy avoided, hundreds of thousands of stolen credit cards made worthless to the criminals, and countless potential victims of crime around the world with their data and accounts safeguarded. That’s cyber power on an immense scale.”

It came as the NCSC revealed that it helped stop a record 2.7 million online scams during 2021 – four times the number in the previous year.

The cyber security body said the rise was the result of the organisation expanding its services to tackle a broader range of scams, including fake celebrity endorsements, rather than an overall increase in malicious content targeting the UK public.

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