UK ‘must be clear-eyed about Chinese ambition’, warns new National Cyber Security Centre chief

The UK "must be clear-eyed about Chinese ambition in technological advancement", the new head of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has warned.

Lindy Cameron stressed that global incidents such as the hack of Microsoft Exchange email servers, initiated by state-sponsored hackers in China before criminals joined in, "have shown the range of cyber threats we currently face".

Echoing the recently published Integrated Review, Ms Cameron stated that although China posed a future challenge, Russia remained "the most acute and immediate threat to the UK".

Ms Cameron, who was formerly the number two at the Northern Ireland Office, has more than two decades’ experience working in national security policy and crisis management.

Delivering her inaugural speech virtually at Queens University Belfast, Ms Cameron said while state-sponsored hackers in China have shown "a particular interest in intellectual property" the UK’s predominant concern was "China’s future role in technology".

"We have grown up with a largely Western internet, where most of the key hardware was made, most of the intellectual property owned, most of the software was designed, and most of the standards driven by Western values.

"It assumes a level of influence we can no longer assume will protect our national security," she added.

Speaking to journalists she stressed that the UK would need to "think harder about how we engage in international standards bodies" to ensure that consumer products were secure.

China’s interest in intellectual property posed a threat to "the fantastic science and technology envisioned in the Integrated Review", Ms Cameron added, which needed to be "protected from theft or acquisition by hostile states".

Earlier this month NCSC warned businesses to urgently update their Microsoft email servers following a hacking campaign.

Microsoft itself warned that multiple groups were taking advantage of a global and indiscriminate hack of its clients’ on-premise email servers, with tens of thousands of potential victims worldwide.

Microsoft said the initial state-sponsored group "primarily targets entities in the United States across a number of industry sectors, including infectious disease researchers, law firms, higher education institutions, defence contractors, policy think tanks, and NGOs".

After compromising email servers belonging to these organisations, Microsoft said the attackers created web shells – interfaces which allow them, and potentially criminal actors too, to remotely access the compromised network even after the original vulnerabilities were patched – which is provoking additional concern.

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