America shows stronger leadership on cyber threat since Joe Biden, says top British spy chief

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Someone on a computer (PA Wire)
Someone on a computer (PA Wire)

A top British spy chief told on Wednesday how America is showing stronger leadership on the cyber threat posed by hostile states like Russia and China since Joe Biden entered the White House.

In an interview with the Standard Lindy Cameron, chief executive of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre said Mr Biden’s administration had taken cyber security to “a totally different level of global conversation”.

“The change in administration in the US has really been fantastic for us,” Ms Cameron said. “It’s given us a set of really great partners and a real team of partners who are taking the threat seriously.

“And having that level of US interest from the new administration has really taken the issue of cyber security as national security to a totally different level of global conversation.

“It’s a very different level of seriousness and a different level of enthusiasm for collective international action.”

Ms Cameron’s comments come as the NCSC announced it dealt with a new record of 777 cyber incidents over the past year with one fifth of those attacks targeted at organisations linked to the health service and the Covid vaccine roll out.

Although the vast majority of attacks were from online criminal groups Ms Cameron warned the UK needed to take the threat posed to Britain and its allies by state sponsored hackers from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea “extremely seriously”.

In April the UK and US attributed an attack on software firm SolarWinds which compromised American Government departments to Russian foreign intelligence service the SVR. Then in July the NCSC blamed a Chinese state backed attacker for a major hack on Microsoft.

The past year has also seen an increase in so-called ransomware attacks - which paralyse computer networks until the victim pays a ransom - with many carried out by Russian criminal groups.

Although the Trump presidency was hawkish on China and pushed Britain to bar Chinese telecoms giant from its mobile phone networks, its America First policy meant America became sceptical of global security alliances under the former President.

Asked if the Biden administration was more engaged on cyber security, Ms Cameron added: “Yes, totally…in particular a willingness to try and get it on the agenda for big meetings, to have conversations at leader level about it.”

Officials cited as an example the US backed move at the G7 summit in Cornwall in June to call on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to identify and hold ransomware criminals within Russia’s borders to account.

While Russia continues to pose a major threat, Ms Cameron said China would dictate the UK’s future cyber security in the coming years.

“China continues to change the world with incredible economic growth and change of pace on technology so one of the important things is we continue to stay ahead of that and think hard in the future about that.”

In comments published in the NCSC review she added: “How China evolves in the next decade will probably be the single biggest driver of the UK’s future cyber security.”

The annual review published today also revealed how the NCSC handled 5.9million reports of suspicious emails over the past 12 months, leading to the removal of over 53,000 scams.

The agency, which is part of signals intelligence service GCHQ, also said it took down 442 phishing campaigns using NHS branding, and 80 illegitimate NHS apps.

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