As the UK government reveals its roadmap for reaching tech superpower status, focusing on the critical technologies of tomorrow including artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing and telecoms, the UK Cyber Security Council explores cyber’s part in forging secure foundations for superpower status.
Building on the strength of its tech sector, which is already the largest in Europe and the third highest valued in the world after the USA and China, the UK government is putting the wheels in motion to achieve tech superpower status by 2030.
Guided by four principles - to be open, responsible, secure and resilient – the plans will shape the future of technology in a way that promotes positive tech uses, driving innovation and UK tech leadership, while boosting security from new and emerging threats.
From the Council’s perspective, this final element is key because the successful future of our tech sector relies on adequate protection and safe foundations for these advancing technologies. Although not cited as a critical technology in its own right in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology’s framework, cyber security is integral to all technology, particularly our biggest emerging tech capabilities.
As cyber attacks grow in volume and complexity, AI can help under-resourced security operations stay ahead of threats. AI has strengths that can be immediately useful to the cyber professionals defending systems, but should this technology find its way into the wrong hands, AI can make cyber defense even more challenging.
AI can search for patterns in massive amounts of data and find ways to correlate new events with old ones. Hackers can also use machine learning to inform and automate their hacking processes whereby these systems find weak points in infrastructures and penetrate them. These systems can then autonomously improve their functionality over time with great effectiveness, presenting an ever-growing problem for cyber defense.
Should the use of AI and access to tools such as ChatGPT become the norm, cyber security must evolve in line with these developments. It will be people and cyber professionals who are at the centre of ensuring that AI and machine learning remain tools for good, in accordance with the government’s plans to shape the future of technology in a way that promotes its positive use.
Keeping telecom connectivity secure
If the government is to deliver on its promise of a world-class digital infrastructure and nationwide coverage of standalone 5G to all populated areas by 2030, securing our fixed and wireless networks will be paramount to the successful creation of next generation connectivity.
Although 5G networks improve the efficiency and capability of the communications infrastructure to enable a new generation of services, they also introduce new security vulnerabilities that threaten networks and those who rely on them.
Network functions that were once performed by purpose-built hardware are now being virtualised in software that is hackable, and increased availability of 5G brings with it new pathways to attack the network.
If standalone 5G is to be available to all, everyone using it needs to understand its cyber security implications and how to safely use this tech in a way which doesn’t leave them and the network vulnerable. As the Council supports the government’s mission to make the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online, widespread cyber skills will be increasingly important as we interact with next generation connectivity.
Controlling quantum computing
We are currently in a period of quantum revolution, but with this opportunity comes a threat.
Quantum computers can now solve highly complex problems faster than any predecessor, posing a significant security risk to sensitive information protected by traditional encryption methods. Harvest now, decrypt later (HNDL) attacks are on the rise as bad actors steal data that may not be useable yet but, once quantum kicks in, will be ripe for the picking.
Businesses are now being advised to prepare for post-quantum cryptography, yet many are already struggling to adequately protect their data in our pre-quantum world. Here again, the skills of cyber professionals will be invaluable in making this shift and keeping pace with rapid advancements.
In the post-quantum cyber space, standardised qualifications and ensuring businesses have the right professional for the right protection will be paramount. Upskilling, reskilling and encouraging more people into the industry will be vital to ensure cyber is equipped to take on its newest opposition.
Delivering on a vision
With an investment of £3.5 billion, growth of the tech sector hopes to drive innovation that will deliver improved public services, create new and better-paid jobs, and grow the economy.
Investment in tech is to be applauded, and it’s vital that we establish the best ways to protect that tech from the outset. With increased accessibility comes an increased need for security, so cyber professionals should work harmoniously with colleagues in other tech specialisms to reach our mutual ambition of making the UK one of the most secure places in the world to live and work digitally.
As part of this, the already sought after skills of cyber professionals will become even more in demand. With the cyber skills gap already widening, the Council’s work – encouraging more people into the industry, making entry more accessible, and simplifying cyber career pathways – becomes even more pressing if we are to adequately support the government on the UK’s journey to tech superpower status.