Britain’s intelligence agencies must open up to co-operation with the global tech sector if they are to counter the rising cyber threats from hostile states, criminals and terrorists, the chief of MI6 is warning.
Richard Moore says the pace of technological advance, from artificial intelligence to quantum computing, means the agencies can no longer simply devise their own solutions to meet the challenges.
In a rare public address, he will acknowledge this has meant a “sea change” in the culture of his organisation which has traditionally prioritised secrecy above all else.
But in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, he will say they are now faced with a paradox whereby they “must become more open to stay secret”.
He is expected to say: “We cannot hope to replicate the global tech industry, so we must tap into it. Unlike Q in the Bond movies, we cannot do it all in-house.
“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.”
Mr Moore, who is known as C in Whitehall, will say that while technological advances had the potential to deliver huge benefits, it is his job to look at “the threat side of the ledger”.
“MI6 deals with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be,” he will say according to advance extracts of his speech. “And ‘digital attack surface’ criminals, terrorists and state threats that seek to exploit against us is growing exponentially.
“According to some assessments, we may experience more technological progress in the next 10 years than in the last century, with a disruptive impact equal to the industrial revolution.
“As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics. But it is a white-hot focus for MI6.”
Mr Moore, who took over as chief in October 2020, will say the organisation has to become as diverse as the society it is drawn from if it is to attract the talent it needs.
“Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage,” he will say. “An intelligence service needs to be at the vanguard of what is technologically possible.
“This is not new. What is new is that we are now pursuing partnerships with the tech community to help develop world-class technologies to solve our biggest mission problems, and those of MI5 and GCHQ.”
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