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GCHQ chief says cyber security should be central to government policy


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The director of GCHQ has said government needs to make cyber security more central to its policy making process.

Jeremy Fleming highlighted the intent as one of a number of steps to strengthen the cyber resilience at a national level in a speech to the CYBERUK 2019 event in Glasgow, hosted by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

His comments highlighted the fact that GCHQ has extended its role as the national security agency to take responsibility for what he described as a “major national risk”. This requires a national effort to deal with the threats.

“With government, it means bringing our cyber security and technology expertise close to the heart of policy making alongside DCMS (the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport),” Fleming said.

“We’ve started to do this on AI, quantum and the internet of things and I can already see that it’s both welcome and needed. And we also have an important role to help the Government secure its own networks.”

Increasing analysis capability

This will be accompanied by an emphasis on knowledge sharing with public and private sectors. He said that over the past year GCHQ has enabled its analysts to share critical information in a matter of seconds, and that it intends to scale up the capability over the coming year.

“Whether it’s indicators of a nation state cyber actor, details of malware used by cyber criminals or credit cards being sold on the dark web, we will declassify this information to get it back to those who can act on it,” he said.

Fleming also pointed to expanding the cyber security ecosystem, partly by extending the reach of GCHQ’s Active Cyber Defence (ACD) programme, which provides a level of automation for dealing with cyber attacks and has involved the NCSC working with government departments. It has helped to sharply reduce the number of phishing attacks on them and, using the protective DNS system, prevented staff from accessing websites with malware.

Other measures include the NCSC working more closely with device manufacturers and online platform providers to build security into their products and services at the design stage; with internet service providers to improve the security of domestic devices; and with banks, sharing intelligence to alert customers in close to real time.

Successes from strategy

Fleming also claimed notable successes for the NCSC and ACD, created as part of the National Cyber Security Strategy.

“I am confident this approach has improved the cyber health of the nation,” he said. “Since its formation, the NCSC has co-ordinated responses to some of the biggest cyber threats the country has faced.

“Our incident management team has worked on more than 1,500 significant cyber security incidents. And using automation, it has reduced the harm from thousands of attacks a month. And it has played a major role in dealing with the strategic threats we face from hostile states.”

He added that the emphasis will now be on envisioning threats further into the future than previously possible.

Image from GCHQ, Crown Copyright

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