Britain’s intelligence agencies must be prepared to work with tech giants to develop world-class technologies that will keep foreign adversaries at bay, the chief of MI6 is warning.
Richard Moore says the pace of technological advance, from artificial intelligence to quantum computing, means the agencies can no longer simply devise their own solutions to meet the challenges.
In a rare public address, he will acknowledge this has meant a ‘sea change’ in the culture of his organisation which has traditionally prioritised secrecy above all else.
But in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, he will say they are now faced with a paradox whereby they ‘must become more open to stay secret’ if they hope to stay ahead of foreign adversaries such as China and Russia.
He is expected to say: ‘We cannot hope to replicate the global tech industry, so we must tap into it.
‘Unlike Q in the Bond movies, we cannot do it all in-house.’
‘I cannot stress enough what a sea-change this is in MI6’s culture, ethos and way of working, since we have traditionally relied primarily on our own capabilities to develop the world class technologies we need to stay secret and deliver against our mission.’
Mr Moore, who is known as C in Whitehall and is the only publicly identified member of MI6, will say that while technological advances had the potential to deliver huge benefits, it is his job to look at ‘the threat side of the ledger’.
‘MI6 deals with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be,’ he will say according to advance extracts of his speech.
‘And “digital attack surface” criminals, terrorists and state threats that seek to exploit against us is growing exponentially.
‘According to some assessments, we may experience more technological progress in the next 10 years than in the last century, with a disruptive impact equal to the industrial revolution.
‘As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics.
‘But it is a white-hot focus for MI6.’
Mr Moore, who took over as chief in October 2020, will say the organisation has to become as diverse as the society it is drawn from if it is to attract the talent it needs.
‘Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage,’ he will say.
It is thought countries like China are investing heavily in these kinds of technologies and that traditional spy craft, such as using human intelligence sources, is increasingly difficult in a surveillance state such as China.
It is understood MI6 have been concerned about China’s technological advancement for some time.
Earlier this year it was reported MI6 were investigating several British universities over fears deals had been struck with the Chinese over cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs.
Meanwhile, Russia was at the centre of a hacking crisis when Russian hackers were accused of using the SolarWinds software to target government agencies and blue-chip businesses in what was dubbed ‘the Pearl Harbour of cyber attacks’.
The attackers, which US intelligence officials have since said were ‘likely’ from Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, used the software as an open door to break into the computer systems of users.
The attack began as far back as October 2019 leaving hackers free rein to explore the networks of government agencies, private companies and think-tanks for months.
Mr Moore added: ‘An intelligence service needs to be at the vanguard of what is technologically possible. This is not new.
‘What is new is that we are now pursuing partnerships with the tech community to help develop world-class technologies to solve our biggest mission problems, and those of MI5 and GCHQ.’
Last month, it was revealed that Britain’s spy agencies had struck a deal to use Amazon’s secure cloud service to host vast amounts of the country’s most secret data.
It is understood the new UK deal will allow spies within the intelligence agencies to share data more easily from field locations overseas.
It will also enable the agencies to use specialist applications such as speech recognition software which can ‘spot’ and translate particular voices from hours’ worth of recordings.
Reports suggest the use of AWS will also enable the agencies to conduct quicker searches on each other’s datastores.
Although concerns were raised about the deal, it is understood Amazon will not have any access to information held on the cloud platform.Internet Explorer Channel Network