British SIGINT agency vows to integrate artificial intelligence into its operations

GCHQBRITAIN’S GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS HEADQUARTERS, one of the world’s most advanced signals intelligence agencies, has published a position paper that vows to embrace artificial intelligence in its operations. For over 100 years, GCHQ, as it is known, has been in charge of spying on global communications on behalf of the British state, while protecting the government’s own communications systems from foreign espionage. In a report published on Thursday, the agency says it intends to use artificial intelligence (AI) to detect and analyze complex threats, and to fend against AI-enabled security challenges posed by Britain’s adversaries.

The report, entitled “Pioneering a New National Security: The Ethics of AI”, includes a foreword by GCHQ Director, Jeremy Fleming. Fleming was a career officer of the Security Service (MI5) until he became head of GCHQ in 2017. In his introductory note he argues that “technology and data” are engrained in the structure of GCHQ, and that AI has “the potential […] to transform [the agency’s] future operations”. The report acknowledges that GCHQ has been using AI for some time for functions including intelligence collection and automated translation. But the ability of AI to distinguish patterns in large sets of data in seconds, which would normally take humans months or years to detect, offers a transformational potential that should not be overlooked, it posits.

Security-related applications of AI are endless, says the report. They include measures against online child exploitation —for instance by detecting the methods used by child sex abusers to conceal their identities across multiple online platforms. Another potentially revolutionary application would be mapping global drug- or human-trafficking networks, by analyzing up-to-the-minute financial transactions and money-laundering activities around the world. Illicit activities that take place in the so-called “dark web” could also be mapped and monitored by AI systems, according to the report.

The report also states that GCHQ will seek ways to promote AI-related research and development in the United Kingdom. Its goal will be to establish bridges with industry by funding start-up ventures in AI, it states. Lastly, GCHQ will seek to formulate an ethical code of practice in AI, which will include best-practice guidelines, and will purposely recruit a diverse personnel of engineers, computer and data scientists. Future reports will tackle emerging technologies such as computational science and synthetic biology, among many others, the GCHQ report concludes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 February 2021 | Permalink

Britain launched first-ever military-style cyber campaign against ISIS, says spy chief

Jeremy FlemingFor the first time in its history, the United Kingdom has launched its first-ever military-style cyber campaign against an adversary, according to the director of the country’s primary cyber security agency. The target of the campaign was the Islamic State, the militant Sunni Muslim group that is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The existence of the all-out cyber war was announced last week by Jeremy Fleming, the newly appointed director of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence organization. Fleming, a former Security Service (MI5) officer, was speaking at the CYBERUK2018 conference, held in the northern English city of Manchester. It was his first public speech as director of GCHQ.

Fleming told his Manchester audience that the cyber operation that targeted ISIS was a “major offensive campaign” that seriously hampered the group’s ability to launch and coordinate both physical and online attacks against its enemies. The campaign also prevented ISIS from using its “normal channels” online to spread its message, effectively suppressing the group’s propaganda efforts, said Fleming. The new GCHQ director noted that large parts of the cyber operation against ISIS were “too sensitive to talk about”. But he added that the methods used to combat the Sunni Muslim group’s online operations were so aggressive that they “even destroyed equipment and networks” used by ISIS members. He did not specify what he meant by “destroyed equipment”, but his comment brought to mind the so-called Stuxnet virus, which was discovered by researchers in 2010. The virus appeared to have been designed by what experts described as “a well-resourced nation-state”, with the aim of sabotage sensitive hardware components found in centrifuges used by the Iranian government in its nuclear program.

During his Manchester speech, Fleming claimed that the British cyber war against ISIS was conducted in compliance with existing international legal frameworks. He added, however, that the “international doctrine governing the use [of cyber weapons] is still evolving”. The GCHQ director admitted that Britain’s cyber capabilities “are very powerful”, but argued that “we only use them in line with domestic and international law, when our tests of necessity and proportionality have been satisfied, and with all the usual oversight in place”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 April 2018 | Permalink | Research credit: K.B.

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