UK spy chief raises fears over China’s digital renminbi

China’s digital RMB, which has been widely touted ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics, is at risk of becoming a tool for monitoring users and managing global currency transactions, the director of the British signaling agency GCHQ said. I warned.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Sir Jeremy Fleming said that while digital currencies offer a “great opportunity” to democratize payment systems, the development of this new technology also poses a threat.

“If done incorrectly, it gives hostile nations the ability to monitor transactions,” he said. “It empowers them … to be able to control what is done in those digital currencies.”

Prior to announcing the new cyber strategy, the spy chief spoke to FT earlier this week from the London headquarters of the National Cyber ​​Security Center, GCHQ’s defense arm.

Scheduled later this month, this document will serve as a blueprint for countering digital threats as the war moves more and more into cyberspace. Fleming said GCHQ is the domain’s “poacher and gamekeeper”, responsible for both protecting the country from attacks and launching offensive operations against its enemies. I did.

With listening stations in the UK and abroad, the agency works with its well-known sister services MI5 and MI6 to specialize in domestic and international intelligence, respectively. However, GCHQ’s digital expertise is in high demand as Fleming calls it an increase in technology “excellence” in society.

Official Chinese App for Digital RMB on Mobile Phone © Florence Lo / Reuters

In fact, the threat has changed significantly since the agency’s historic role in World War II, when the GCHQ codebreaker deciphered Nazi communications from the Bletchley Park draft hut.

He said China is currently the “biggest strategic problem” facing Britain, expanding espionage and seeking control of its digital infrastructure. “China stole the march …[it’s]Invest very large, openly and secretly. That’s because road rules are starting to really influence how they work in the technology and digital context, “Fleming explained. “We need to understand what our reaction to all of that is.”

The spy chief was keen to keep Britain open to trade with Beijing and emphasize the importance of cooperating in areas such as climate change.

But he said it was “very intrusive” when other countries collected a large amount of data about British citizens (how they work, shop, socialize and travel). I was worried that it could lead to “erosion of sovereignty.”Early this month Richard MooreChina, head of MI6, suggests that China is exporting technology that enables it to exert its “authoritarian dominance network” around the world, and Beijing traps other countries with “data traps.” I blamed him.

Listen to Weekly podcast FT Chief Diplomatic Columnist Gideon Rachman listens to his conversations with decision makers and thinkers around the world shaping the world.

Digital currencies are one such trap, 140 million individuals and businesses According to the People’s Bank of China, we have already signed up to use the digital yuan. In the context of The upcoming Olympics. .. ..China is taking every opportunity to anticipate digital currencies and wants foreign visitors to use digital currencies in the same way as domestic visitors, “Fleming said.

He wanted Beijing to coordinate with international partners in agreeing on an online currency regulatory system. “We haven’t seen any triggers from China yet,” Fleming said, while some countries and organizations have shown a “true thirst” for better dialogue on the issue.

Such an understatement is typical of the 54-year-old GCHQ director, who is the most cautious and media-shy of the three British spy chiefs. His 28 years of intelligence began almost by accident when he got a job at the Ministry of Defense after a short period of work as an accountant in the city.

This turned out to be a post for MI5 and was later involved in responding to the London 7/7 terrorist attack and led the security preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games. He was widely expected to take over the director of MI5 until the top GCHQ job became vacant and he moved to an agency to fulfill that role.

One of Fleming’s key responsibilities is to develop Britain’s cyberwarfare capabilities. Interstate sparring in cyberspace is a secret business, and the details of the UK’s unique “aggressive cyber” features are still highly categorized.

Last year, the minister said National Cyber ​​Force , GCHQ and MoD will jointly lead and target enemies online by blocking terrorist phone signals, destroying servers and hacking enemy weapon systems. Based in the village of Lancashire, Fleming says, “It’s a very important part of our cyber power … That’s how the state competes.”

GCHQ Headquarters in Cheltenam © PA

Britain has publicly called on countries such as Russia and China for hacking activities, but Fleming refused to comment on how Britain is fighting in the cyber domain. “We have to leave some space between the operation and the conversation,” said the chief spy. “These features have been scrutinized and properly monitored.”

The only known example of Britain’s offensive cyber campaign was conducted against Islamic State during the heyday of group attempts to form a caliphate system across Syria and Iraq. In this operation, the group’s promotion was suppressed by destroying the physical IT infrastructure, and the strength on the battlefield was limited by disabling the drone.

With the proliferation of cyber technology, not all threats come directly from traditional enemies.Last month, the United States Authorization Israeli spyware maker NSO Group has been accused of using the software by authoritarian governments to monitor the phones of human rights activists and journalists around the world, including the editor of this newspaper.

Fleming described such a deployment of the NSO hacking feature as “beyond what is completely inferior,” adding: [technology] It does damage in such an unconstrained way and should not be tolerated. ”

GCHQ Listening Post in Bude, Cornwall
GCHQ Listening Post in Bude, Cornwall © Kieran Doherty / Reuters

The UK has not followed the United States by sanctioning the NSO, but Mr Fleming said he was “confident” that the government “wants to continue scrutinizing” the issue.

In the short term, GCHQ will address some of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, from espionage aimed at stealing vaccine research to a surge in ransomware attacks caused by increased vulnerability through remote work. Focuses on that. About 40% of UK companies have suffered cyber breaches or attacks so far this year.

These growing threats have given his agency much broader authority. “The role of GCHQ is changing very rapidly,” Fleming said, admitting that the pace of evolution is one of the “fastest.” .. .. In our history. ” “Ultimately, GCHQ has thousands of technicians who can apply their expertise to a wider set of problems. [than espionage]”, He explained.

Part of this evolution is the recognition that intelligence agencies cannot do all the work with technology developed in-house. As FT reported earlier this year, GCHQ New contractWe work with AWS, Amazon’s cloud computing arm, to host sensitive data from British espionage agencies. Fleming didn’t comment on the deal, but he seemed open to future collaborations and partnerships with tech companies.

“Withdrawing from some of the world’s finest and most innovative technologies with built-in security is not a sustainable model for UK intelligence,” Fleming argues. “The world of technology is a global world and we have to play in that space.”

UK spy chief raises fears over China’s digital renminbi Source link UK spy chief raises fears over China’s digital renminbi

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