Cyberattacks: EU Committee Report — Motion to Take Note
Lord Reid of Cardowan (Labour)
My Lords, I am delighted to make my first speech in this Chamber, particularly in the company of my noble friend Lord Browne. I do not suggest that this is as fair a pair of maidens as has ever graced the Chamber, but I hope that our contributions will in some way illuminate the deliberations here. I am also pleased to be making my first contribution during such an important debate and discussion-albeit late in the day and late in the week. Nevertheless, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for introducing it and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, for the response that she will give on behalf of the Government on such an important issue.
I declare a manifest interest in these matters, as registered, not least as chair of the Institute for Security and Resilience Studies at University College London, which attempts to address some of these difficult issues.
I had the honour of serving for almost quarter of a century in another place and in one or two ministerial posts-there were about nine, actually-at the behest of the last Prime Minister but one, my friend and colleague the right honourable Tony Blair. During that time, I hope that I gained a little experience with which I can contribute in this House. I was always impressed by the wisdom of this House. The first part of that wisdom is to recognise that, when one comes here, whatever one's experience, such is the experience already vested here that it would be extremely wise to approach the place not with pride but with a degree of humility. So I do tonight, in the company of some honourable and right honourable previous friends, now noble Lords, who have graced this Chamber with their views on security matters. I thank them and all the staff for the welcome that I received when I arrived here. It was warm; it was cordial; it was hospitable; and, for those of us who came from another place and were more used to the Jeremy Paxman approach to building relationships, it was disconcertingly fraternal from every other point of the House. I thank everyone for that.
I should also place on record my thanks to my constituents in Lanarkshire, who until the last election gave me loyalty and support for some 23 years and who in their wisdom have now chosen the baby of the other House, Pamela Nash, who, at 25 years of age, brings to the post of MP for Lanarkshire the youth, grace, dynamic approach, energy and attractiveness that have always marked Lanarkshire MPs. I wish her well. At 25, she has, I am sure, a long and very successful future in front of her.
It was in Lanarkshire, that area of coal, steel, comradeship and what we called the craic, that the character, values and world views that I now hold were first forged. It was there that I first saw, through my parents-Tommy, a postman, and Mary, a factory labourer-and our neighbours, that potent combination of features that have formed the basis of my outlook in politics. It is a combination of individual personal aspiration, community solidarity and indomitable endurance in the face of adversity. Though the material conditions that gave rise to that particular holy trinity of elements of political philosophy have now disappeared, the potency of their inherent value remains within the culture and character of this nation as a whole. Any political party that fails to realise that and abandons those three characteristics will fail to connect with the electorate. The true dynamo of our society is not the actions of politicians or the intervention of the state but the aspiration of ordinary men and women to forge a better life for themselves and their families than they inherited from their parents. The role of the state in these matters-this is part of personal security-is to act as a platform to help people to realise their ambitions. It is never to act as a substitute for those ambitions. If it ever becomes that, it will only stifle the growth and dynamism that is within the British culture.
It was also in Lanarkshire that I was first acquainted with the essential problem depicted in tonight's debate-that of digital communication, transfer of information and cybertechnology, with all its opportunities and challenges. I want briefly to tell a story, because it illustrates how the world has changed. Just under 25 years ago, on
I recalled that experience earlier today when I was reading the report on cyberattacks to which the noble Lord referred. In the past 25 years, we have travelled further and faster in human communications and information exchange than in all the previous millennia in aggregate. That is the true meaning of a globalised world. It is a world that is becoming more complex and more difficult to understand. It is a world in which, for the first generation, parents have been taught by their children how to communicate through the internet. But it is a world that we in this House must attempt to understand because, if we do not, we will not understand any of the problems that we face.
Perhaps I can convey it this way. I do not know how many noble Lords have read Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. I commend it to everyone in the House, although I could not understand anything beyond chapter 4. One element of it gives us a model for understanding the present world. His contention is that, if we could understand the laws that govern the movements of the smallest things in the world, or quantum mechanics, and combine them with the laws that govern the movement of the largest things-planets and the general theory of relativity-we could understand the mind of God.
I am far too modest to claim that I will explain the mind of God tonight, but if we want to understand the world in which we live we should start with the smallest thing, the microchip, and combine it with the largest process, which is globalisation. "Globalisation" is a word that it is continually used but rarely defined. It has two characteristics. It is a network world-its first characteristic is the interchange of finance, trade, goods, people and ideas, which have been enabled by digital communications. But it also has interdependence. We are now so interlinked to that network world that, if swine flu starts here, it spreads rapidly everywhere. If a financial crisis starts somewhere, within days it can spread throughout the globe. If a foreign country cuts off our energy, it can cripple us.
Nowhere is that vulnerability from interdependence clearer than in network capabilities. A few days ago, the Secretary of State for Defence pointed out, correctly, that if someone were to explode a nuclear weapon in the skies above this country, the electromagnetic pulse would bring down all our networks. That is accurate, but there are three problems with sending such a nuclear weapon. First, it is very costly. Secondly, it takes years to develop. Thirdly, people can generally tell where it came from and spot the culprit. If you wanted to bring down the electronic systems on which the whole of this country is now based, why would you send an expensive, long-developed, easily identifiable intercontinental ballistic missile when you could do it with a mobile phone? It is on one of 32 platforms that would enable you to cripple someone's network and it is developed cheaply by other people. The great thing about sending a message on it is that you can disguise where it came from. If noble Lords think that that is big, let me tell them that in 2008 the biggest intervention of a virus in the American security system was done quite simply with a memory stick, which was given to a member of the American military/security forces. It was a handy gift; he put it in his laptop, plugged in and logged on and, within hours, the virus was all over the American security system.
Weapons that attack us no longer have to be frigates or sophisticated military systems. They do not have to be expensive and they do not have to give away the attacker. That is the nature of the problem that we are facing. As the good Lord said, it is growing exponentially. I spoke yesterday to somebody from Sophos. When noble Lords turn on their parliamentary machine, they will see that they are protected by Sophos. He told me that last year Sophos found 5,000 incidents of Malware every day among their clientele-that is, interventions of a non-benign nature. This year, there are 80,000 a day. At present, the American security system and the public sector in America receive interventions that are unsourced and unidentified to the extent of 250,000 every hour.
There is a vulnerability here that we must try to understand, although we have come late to it. I hope that, as we address it, we will remember one thing-the renowned wisdom of this House. As I said, this device is a means of production of communication but also a potential source of vulnerability, which has been learnt by children and taught by children to parents. It is to be expected in a House like this, for all our wisdom, that we might not be as au fait with technological advances as the younger generation. However, we ignore this at our peril. It should be at the front of our considerations here; I know that it is at the front of the considerations of the noble Baroness who will respond tonight and I hope that it will be at the front of the Government's security deliberations and their conclusions next week. Above all, I hope that, in the course of that debate and in the midst of the wisdom and experience that exist already in this Chamber, I can make some contribution towards our deliberations.