It is increasingly clear that countries with weak cyber defences and capabilities will find themselves at a serious strategic disadvantage given the rise of state-sponsored cyber attacks, according to foreign secretary William Hague.
"As all our societies become more wired up and technologies converge, the scope for malignant activity will widen alongside the many advantages, whether it is the theft of intellectual property or the spread of malware and viruses," he told the London Conference on Cyberspace.
"If we want a future in which the benefits of the digital age are expanded to all peoples and economies of the world, and the risks are minimised as much as possible, then we need to act to achieve it," said Hague.
The internet should remain open, he said, and the world must strive for a model for internet governance in which governments, industry and users of the internet work together in a collective endeavour, establishing a balance of responsibility.
"The truth is that in cyberspace, no one can go it alone," he said.
Hague said the UK was increasing its national cyber defences through its four-year programme with significant government funding and is working to ensure that as many small businesses as possible win contracts to build the country's cybersecurity infrastructure.
"We want to make the UK the pre-eminent, safe space for e-commerce and intellectual property online," he said.
Hague said in place of today's cyber free-for-all, there needs to be rules of the road, and the UK has proposed a set of seven principles, including that governments need to act proportionately in cyberspace, as a basis for more effective cooperation between states, businesses and organisations.
"We suggested these principles as a starting point in efforts to reach a broad agreement about behaviour in cyberspace," he said.
Unless we begin to take action to ensure a positive future in which new technologies can be used to spur economic growth, Hague warned that a darker scenario could well prevail for the private sector, individuals and governments.
"It is time to build on our common interests, developing firm ideas and proposals with real political and diplomatic weight that will help us attain full economic and social potential in cyberspace while guarding against an unpredictable and potentially dangerous future," he said.
Hague conceded that it is unlikely the world will find a way forward overnight, but he said it is work that must begin now.