MI6 Boss: Digital Attack Surface Growing "Exponentially"

One of the UK’s top spymasters has revealed that MI6 is pursuing partnerships with the technology industry to tackle the challenges posed by nation-states, cyber-criminals and global terrorists.

Head of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), Richard Moore, explained in a rare speech yesterday that, unlike the character Q from the James Bond films, the service cannot source all of its tech capabilities in-house.

“Through the National Security Strategic Investment Fund we are opening up our mission problems to those with talent in organizations that wouldn’t normally work with national security,” he added.

“I cannot stress enough what a sea-change this is in MI6’s culture, ethos and way of working, since we have traditionally relied primarily on our own capabilities to develop the world class technologies we need to stay secret and deliver against our mission.”

These partnerships will increasingly be needed in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing and synthetic biology, into which adversaries are “pouring money and ambition” to gain leverage, Moore warned.

New tech capabilities will help address MI6’s four key priorities: Russia, China, Iran and global terrorism. It’s a challenge made more acute as technology rapidly advances, he said.

“The ‘digital attack surface’ that criminals, terrorists and hostile states threats seek to exploit against us is growing exponentially. We may experience more technological progress in the next ten years than in the last century, with a disruptive impact equal to the industrial revolution,” Moore argued.

Much of his speech was focused on China, whose intelligence services Moore claimed were “highly capable” and both monitor foreign targets and aim to influence the Chinese diaspora.

Moore called out China’s growing disinformation operations via social media and its attempts to draw smaller nations into its sphere of influence via “debt traps” and “data exposure.”

He also warned that the country was increasingly exporting “Made in China” surveillance technology to create a “web of authoritarian control” around the planet.

James Griffiths, technical director of consultancy Cyber Security Associates, argued that technology like big data analytics could be a “force multiplier” in helping to automate key tasks and make intelligence analysts more productive.

“MI6 is very good at what it does within its own intelligence remit. It has also positively identified that to be the best across the board it needs to leverage the skillset of other organizations that are specialists in key areas, for example AI, machine learning quantum cryptography,” he added.

“By leveraging and working in partnership with these organizations MI6 will increase its overall effectiveness and the wider intelligence community as a whole.

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?