Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has committed to investing £22m in establishing cyber capacity in developing and vulnerable countries in the so-called Global South as part of the government’s post-Brexit vision for the UK’s world role.
In remarks delivered on the second day of the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC’s) virtual CyberUK 2021 conference, Raab said the UK continued to work closely with traditional partners such as Nato and the Five Eyes intelligence group comprising the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US.
However, he said the government was now seeking to “bridge old geopolitical dividing lines” between rich Western countries and the G77 group of 134 developing nations that form the Global South.
Raab said the UN’s recent unanimous agreement on principles for how states should operate in cyber space was an important stepping stone, but the UK now wanted wider agreement on how to respond to nation-states that “systematically commit malicious cyber attacks”.
“We have got to win hearts and minds across the world for our positive vision of cyber space as a free space, open to all responsible users and there for the benefit of the whole world,” said Raab. “And, frankly, we’ve got to prevent China, Russia and others from filling the multilateral vacuum. That means doing a lot more to support the poorest and most vulnerable countries.
“Today I am very pleased to announce that the UK government will invest £22m in new funding to support cyber capacity building in those vulnerable countries, particularly in Africa and the Indo-Pacific.
“That money will go to supporting national cyber response teams, advising on mass online safety awareness campaigns, and collaborating with Interpol to set up a new cyber operations hub in Africa. The idea of that will be to improve co-operation on cyber crime investigations, and support the countries involved to mount joint operations.”
Raab added: “My perspective, at least from a diplomatic point of view, is that as Global Britain, we must be agile and work with new partners.”
In a wide-ranging speech, the foreign secretary also touched on some of the UK’s recent successes in global cyber defence, including calling out malicious activity conducted by and on behalf of Russia, and the establishment of the National Cyber Force (NCF), which he said would target and impose costs on malicious actors threatening the UK.
“The NCF conducts targeted offensive cyber operations to support the UK’s national security priorities,” he said. “We don’t talk much about our capabilities here for obvious reasons, but this technology can prevent the internet from being used as a platform for serious crimes, for example by denying access to a particular part of a criminal gang’s infrastructure or undermining their network.
“We can use it in military operations, we did it in Iraq during the Battle of Mosul, to disrupt Daesh’s battlefield communications, which helped coalition forces to take ISIL fighters by surprise.
“The threats we face from reckless cyber attacks, like NotPetya, or the attacks on our NHS, and on our democracy, are all too real. But at the same time, we should also be confident, even optimistic, about what lies ahead.
“Because we can grasp the opportunities the internet presents today, and protect those at risk from the online predators. We can lead internationally in protecting the most vulnerable countries, and at the same time bring together a wider coalition of countries to shape international rules that serve the common good.”
Raab said the UK had a comparative advantage in this space, with world-beating coders and scientists, and a flourishing innovation culture, which, coupled with the expertise of bodies such as GCHQ and the NCSC, alongside the NCF, could enable the UK to both defend its domestic interests and protect the world wide web from “those who would poison the well”.