Western countries risk losing control of technologies that are crucial to internet security and economic prosperity to nations such as Russia and China if they do not take steps to address the threat, one of Britain’s spy chiefs warned Friday.
Significant technological leadership is shifting eastward and causing a conflict of interests and values, argued Jeremy Fleming, director of electronic surveillance agency GCHQ.
He highlighted the threat from China, which by virtue of its size and technological weight has the potential to control the global operating system.
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China is an early adopter of emerging technologies, but at the same time has a competing vision for the future of cyberspace and plays an influential role in the debate over international norms and standards, Fleming said.
He argued that countries like China can turn their illiberal values into technological patterns that the world would eventually come to rely on and use their state power to control and dominate technology markets, turning them into fields of geopolitical competition.
Meanwhile, Russian hacking and other nefarious online activities pose the most serious threat to the UK, but Fleming said that, as with the vulnerability of cell phone apps, they can be avoided.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry countered that Fleming’s statements were totally unfounded and irrational.
Western countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States are actually the real empires of hacking and wiretapping, said spokesman Zhao Lijian in Beijing.
If allowed to act unchecked, foreign adversaries could threaten the design and freedom of the Internet, Fleming said. He cited as examples the security of emerging technologies such as smart city sensors used to run services more efficiently or digital currencies, which can be adapted to gather data or other meddling capabilities contrary to open and democratic societies.
Britain and the West face a moment of accountability, Fleming said.