China is a threat to future of the internet, UK spy chief says

China is a threat to future of the internet and could force a ‘moment of reckoning’, UK spy chief says

  • Deputy director of strategy at GCHQ warns West is facing ‘moment of reckoning’
  • She says technology driving internet has long been informed by Western values
  • But that will not be the picture moving forward amid a big shift to the East
  • Dominic Raab last year said China was engaging in ‘systematic cyber sabotage’

One of the UK’s spy chiefs said yesterday that China was threatening the future of the internet and the West was facing a ‘moment of reckoning’.

The deputy director of strategy at GCHQ, who was named only as Ann S, told Cheltenham Science Festival: ‘We in the West have been fortunate that a lot of the technology which has driven the internet has been informed by Western liberal values, democratic values, but that is not going to be the picture going forward. 

‘So we can see that there is a big shift to the East. There is a potential clash of values there.’

She added that Beijing’s values ‘are unlike the values that we hold to be important in the West.’ 

Last year, Dominic Raab, the then Foreign Secretary, said China was engaged in ‘systematic cyber sabotage’.

In the past China erased social media accounts of independent news providers for ‘spreading politically harmful information, maliciously falsifying (Communist) party history, slandering heroes and defaming the nation’s image’.

Last summer an arm of GCHQ, the National Cyber Security Centre, said it was ‘highly likely’ that a group of hackers called Hafnium were ‘associated with the Chinese state’.

These hackers were accused of launching a ‘reckless’ attack which compromised 250,000 servers worldwide, by exploiting a vulnerability in Microsoft Exchange servers which left organisations at risk of industrial espionage and ransomware attacks.

Chinese President Xi Jinping adjusts his jacket at a ceremony to honour contributions to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics

Mr Raab said at the time: ‘The Chinese government must end this systematic cyber sabotage and can expect to be held to account if it does not.’

Concerns have also been raised in recent years about TikTok’s connections with China’s Communist regime, as parent company ByteDance has its headquarters in Beijing.

Republican senator Josh Hawley has previously called it a company compromised by the Chinese Communist Party that ‘knows where your children are, knows what they look like, what their voices sound like, what they’re watching’.

In recent years, China has erased the social media accounts of independent news providers for violations including ‘spreading politically harmful information, maliciously falsifying (Chinese Communist) party history, slandering heroes and defaming the nation’s image’.

On the West’s potential clash with Chinese values when it comes to the internet, Ann S told Cheltenham Science Festival: ‘Collaboration with our partners is absolutely essential.

‘You know, this is a moment of reckoning for the West really.’

She also issued a warning about Russia, stating: ‘It’s really clear that Russia has engaged in a mass state-orchestrated campaign of disinformation and that they have sought to undermine international support for Ukraine.

‘They’ve sought to come up with lots of fictitious reasons to justify their actions in Ukraine.’

Adding that Russians had tried to ‘break the Ukrainians’ spirits’, she added: ‘I think the UK government has taken the step – the very unusual step I should add – of really calling that out.’

Last year, Dominic Raab, then Foreign Secretary, said China was engaged in ‘systematic cyber sabotage’

The deputy director of strategy and policy discussed the decision made to declassify highly classified intelligence suggesting Russian president Vladimir Putin had plans to install a puppet government in Ukraine.

The UK also made public an attack on a telecommunications company based in Ukraine, one hour before the invasion.

Ann S said: ‘I think it is up to us and our allies to be vigilant, particularly given some of the threats that have emerged more recently, and make sure that we are in a position to kind of call out that sort of state-sponsored disinformation when we see that.’ 

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