Cyber Threats - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:29 pm on 18th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 1:29 pm, 18th October 2018

When we discussed this yesterday, the noble Lord was concerned about the installation within the Palace of Westminster of this capacity, which could indeed read stuff that was on my desk. I think this is primarily a matter for the authorities within the parliamentary estate. I will share with them the noble Lord’s concerns and get a considered reply, possibly from the noble Lord, Lord McFall.

It is right that in the face of these shared threats the UK works alongside its international partners and allies to confront, expose and disrupt hostile or malicious activity. Noble Lords will have seen recently our attribution of a range of indiscriminate and reckless cyberattacks to the work of Russian military intelligence, and 21 other countries stood with us to call this out. That builds upon a host of cyberattacks that we and our international partners have attributed to North Korean actors, including the WannaCry incident, one of the most substantial to hit the UK in terms of scale and disruption.

We are absolutely clear that we must work together to show that states attempting to undermine the international rules-based system cannot act with impunity. The Foreign Secretary pressed this point with his counterparts at the Foreign Affairs Council earlier this week, and the Prime Minister is today encouraging the European Council to accelerate work to strengthen the EU response to malicious cyber activities, including a new regime of restrictive measures.

When necessary, we will defend ourselves. We are continuing to develop our offensive cyber capabilities as part of the toolkit that we use to deter our adversaries and deny them opportunities to attack us both in cyberspace and in the physical sphere. My noble friend Lord Borwick referred to this. If he looks at page 51 of the National Cyber Security Strategy 2016 to 2021, I hope he will be reassured by what we say about enhancing sovereign capabilities and offensive cyber, ensuring that we have at our disposal,

“appropriate offensive cyber capabilities that can be deployed at a time and place of our choosing, for both deterrence and operational purposes, in accordance with national and international law.”.

It is also vital that we continue to reaffirm our shared vision for an open, peaceful and secure digital world based on the rule of law and norms of behaviour. The noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, was right to refer to the speech by the previous Attorney-General saying that international law applied to cyberspace. It seems to me that if a foreign state were to drop a bomb on our airports we would have a right to reply, and likewise if our airports are immobilised through cyber we should equally have such a right, though of course that should be proportionate and legal. We do not concede ground to those who believe that existing international law does not apply, or who seek to impose controls through international fora as a means of restricting basic human rights.

Our work with international partners goes beyond joint operations and influencing. For example, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, asked about the work that we are doing with the Commonwealth. We have been scoping and piloting projects to date, but we are now accelerating delivery and expect to have spent £2.3 million by the end of this financial year. Much of this is in partnership with the private sector—for example, we are working with Citibank, an American bank, to build resilience in the Commonwealth finance sector.

I did not think we would get through the debate without Brexit being raised by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord St John of Bletso. The cyber threat that the UK and its European allies face from state actors and cybercriminals remains significant and, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, says, it knows no international boundaries. That is why the UK is seeking to maintain the broadest possible co-operation with our EU partners so that we can continue to share information with EU security institutions, deepen industrial collaboration and work together to develop cyber resilience in support of our collective security, values and democratic processes. Continued co-operation with the EU is not only in our interest; it is firmly in the interest of the EU as we look to respond to hostile state and non-state actors in cyberspace.

At this halfway point in the delivery of our national cyber security strategy, we have put in place many of the building blocks to transform the UK’s cybersecurity and resilience, already demonstrating results. However, we can never become complacent. Just as the threat from cyber criminals and nation states continues to evolve, so too must we continue to innovate and respond at scale and pace. We are therefore stepping up our protection of government systems, from the NCSC’s excellent active cyber defence measures to models adapted from those used by the finance sector to test the security of public services.

On the subject of defence, the noble Lord, Lord Browne, a previous Secretary of State, raised some important issues about the security of our defence systems. We have well-established processes in place to address cybersecurity and the protection of our weapons systems. We are continuing to invest—for example, through our £265 million programme of cyber vulnerability investigations for military equipment. On the specifics of responding to the report published in the US, I will happily write to the noble Lord. To allay his concerns on the UK’s use of equipment supplied by the United States, I refer him to the details of the NCSC’s support of the MoD’s Modernising Defence programme in its recent annual review, where examples include stringent testing of the new F35B fighter planes.