Director GCHQ’s Speech at CYBERUK 2021 Online

The full transcript of Director GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming’s opening words at the NCSC’s flagship cyber security event, CYBERUK21 Online

Good morning. Thanks to Lindy, for that introduction. I’m very happy to be with you today, even if it’s virtually.

Now Lindy took over from Ciaran Martin last October. I promise you a Northern Irish accent is not a prerequisite for her job! She’s brought a wealth of international, security and government expertise to the role and is already making a difference. It’s great to have her as part of the team – I know how much she is looking forward to meeting you in person too.

And so to today.

At a time when cyber security has never been more essential to the nation’s prosperity and resilience, CYBERUK is more vital than ever in bringing us together.

No one organisation can meet these challenges alone; we all need to play our part. And no one country can do this in isolation. Working with likeminded partners around the world is key. Cyber is most definitely a team sport.

As Lindy has just outlined, over the next two days, we’ll be talking about the changing threat landscape, what that means for resilience, the big issues of the day and what collectively we can do to stay ahead.

Of course, there have been some big changes since we last got together.

It will not have escaped your attention that we are still living through a global pandemic. I suspect I will not be the only one to reference this today. And that’s unsurprising when you look at the impact it’s had on our lives and how much change it has catalysed.

When Covid demands we must keep our distance, technology is playing a key role bringing us together.

The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change, both in terms of the threats and our response. Cyber is underpinning more and more of our lives. Innovations in technology have made it even more central to our societies. Data has become the Crown jewels that we must protect.

But it’s easy to see that all of this has also enabled our adversaries.

The result is that cyber security is even more relevant. To our economy. To our society. And increasingly, to our security.

The fact that so many of you are joining us today – for this, our first virtual CYBERUK – shows that you get this too.

The last time I spoke at CYBERUK was from a stage in Glasgow. Many of you will remember the sheer scale of the event. The buzz in the auditorium and around the exhibitor’s hall. And the amazing things that happen when you bring such a vibrant mix of professionals together.

Next year, we will be in Wales and the year after, we’re heading to Northern Ireland. And by 2023 we will have held CYBERUK in all four of the home nations. That’s really important to me as GCHQ and NCSC are assets for the whole country.

But back to today. Although we’re not able to physically come together, I’m hoping that we can bring the same energy.

Of course, it’s essential we recognise that the environment we are operating in is changing. As I’ve said previously, without action it is increasingly apparent that the key technologies on which we rely for prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West.

We can see significant technology leadership is moving East. It’s causing a conflict of interests. Of values. Where prosperity and security are at stake.

And it follows, that cyber security is an increasingly strategic issue that needs a whole of nation approach if we are to continue to reap the benefits of technology.

These are really big themes. And they have big stakes.

There is no doubt that we are facing a moment of reckoning. I’m optimistic about our response. After all, the UK has considerable soft and hard power. We are already a leading cyber power. We have a history of technological innovation – from the early proto-computers to the World Wide Web, British ingenuity continues to shape the world.

But it’s clear that to face up to this moment of reckoning, we need to protect and build our strategic technology advantage. By that, I mean using science and tech to help defend against threats. To amplify our values. And as a consequence, make Britain stronger and more prosperous. 

This agenda was detailed in the recent Integrated Review. It sets out how the UK and allies could use technology to deliver for open societies across the world, and those who aspire to join them.

I hope you can see your role in making that a reality.

For us, the task is to double down on the actions that have made the country a responsible cyber power.

This always starts from a defensive posture. It’s nearly 5-years since the NCSC’s launch. And in that short time, it has become world leading and its work is much copied. I’m really proud it’s part of GCHQ, and of everything it’s doing to improve cyber resilience.

We know that its work is not yet – and may never be – done. But we are determined that it will continue evolving to meet the cyber security needs of the country. Its recent work in support of our covid response shows how much value it can add at a national and an international level.

And that value comes in many forms. The pandemic has shown, yet again, that the challenges we face are not just about technology but they’re about how society interacts with that tech.

And for me, that means the UK will only be able to thrive in the digital era if we are able to draw people from all backgrounds to work together on these problems.

Inclusion has become mission critical, not a nice to have. It’s vital to our intelligence and cyber security work.

I’ve seen first-hand how bringing together people who think differently helps us to be more innovative, spot better intelligence or design better tech. It’s not just the morally right thing to do, it’s smart business.

And many of you see that too. Diversifying the talent pipeline is to the whole profession’s benefit.

These themes: the importance of technology to our nation’s strategic future, the critical role of cyber security and cyber power in making that a reality, the importance of inclusion in making this a success – are what we hope to explore over the next few days.

They’ll be picked up by all of our key-note speakers too.

As Lindy noted, later today we’re honoured to be joined by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. She’ll be talking about how we ensure our legislation and powers continue to meet the challenges posed by the threats we face in cyberspace.

And tomorrow, the First Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, will share his thoughts on what it means to be a responsible cyber power and the importance of international rules that serve the common good.

And to stress the international nature of these issues we are delighted to be joined by a range of speakers from around the world, and they can tell us what we look like as a cyber friend and ally.

To sum up, I think this is a critical moment for us to be gathering. As a country, we are weathering the storm of Covid-19 and calmer waters are on the horizon. We can see trade is beginning to bounce back. We know that tech, digital and cyber are central to our future.

And that means that all of you – as critical members of the UK’s world leading cyber team – have a fundamental role to play in unblocking the opportunities that lie ahead.

I’m delighted CYBERUK is able to offer such a strong line up to develop these thoughts. I hope the next few days help inspire new ideas, energise you and reaffirm your part in this team. I’m really looking forward to what’s to come and of course to seeing you in person, very soon.

GCHQ © Crown Copyright 2021

CYBERUK 2021 Online


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