28 October 2019

Projects of the British Government Communication Headquarter - Innovation, technology and a fourth generation espionage

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It was recently inaugurated, in Manchester, a strategic hub, an accelerator called Safe Citizen Digital Innovation Lab. And one of Great Britain’s top cyber-spies, an Oxbridge graduate, will be responsible with United Kingdom’s offensive cyber operations. She is leading the National Cyber Force, an association between GCHQ and the Defence Ministry, a new agency with almost 250 million pounds budget, which will initially have 500 hackers working for it and, then, their number will reach 3.000.

Image source: Mediafax

An accelerator to improve citizens’ safety

If the news above are regarded as science fictions by some individuals or others are simply ignoring it, there are also some British men who, most likely, are asking themselves what the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) in London is up to now?

And because the GCHQ, a British intelligence agency, is not just part of the new founded National Cyber Force, but also the one developing the working space in Manchester, partnering with UP Venture and The Landing, the accelerator project that we know so little about may be dedicated just to improving citizens safety.

An accelerator is a method by which a business is developed, in general, in technology. A startup accelerator is a program supporting the companies through education and funding. The most popular fields for startup accelerators include technology, Artificial Intelligence and biotechnology. Companies that are famous today were assisted, when they first started working, with accelerators. For example, the Plus and Play Tech Center accelerator, from Silicon Valley, supported Google, PayPal and Zoosk to transform their ideas into businesses. Other famous accelerators are Y Combinator, which launched Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit and Techstars, which sponsored more than 21 startups.

UpVentures is investing a lot in technology companies, which are just starting to work-MediaTech, HealthTech, GovTech, EdTech, FinTech- mainly in New York, Silicon Valley, but also in other places, to help the important entrepreneurs to create highly valued businesses. UpVentures define themselves as organizational integrators, which have competence in understanding the language of labels, startups, investors and governments, which would offer them the credibility to start really productive partnerships, help clients create lasting changes and lead high-value profitable businesses.

Also, The Landing offers technological and digital startups, the small and medium-sized enterprises, a place wherein to work together with important media and technology organizations, allowing them to be part of the MediaCityUK community (an 80 hectares property, in Manchester, commonly used by different companies, especially media organizations). The Landing offers office spaces, conference facilities, UX laboratories (User Experience laboratories or usability labs, a space wherein are being made applicability tests, an environment where users are studied while interacting whit a system- a product, booklet, application, website, software package, video game etc.- to evaluate system’s capacity).

Together with UpVentures and The Landing, the British intelligence service wants to gather companies which have technological solutions oriented towards clients, dedicated to increase citizens’ digital safety, startups which have exploited the latest technology getting and offering new information, from connection devices and service, to the creative use of data.

The accelerator offers participatory companies the possibility to collaborate with GCHQ specialists and to have access to security expertise and top technological resources, including Artificial Intelligence and machine learning mechanisms, and for the Intelligence community…new brains and ways of thinking.

The Manchester accelerator is the second GCHQ startup program, after the cyber security accelerator, partnering with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport of the British Government, and Wayra UK, part of the Open Future initiative, by which Telefonica (a multinational telecommunication company, located in Madrid), aimed, since 2014, to connect investors, international state and private organizations to get…innovative technological solutions.

The goal of the cyber field partnerships is to support Great Britain’s startups, to increase and take the lead in producing the next cyber security systems to protect the country against cyber-attacks and threats. They want to stimulate the cyber-security field and support British companies and citizens against online threats by developing two top innovation centers (which involves cybersecurity accelerators), as part of the National Cyber Security Program, worth of 1,9 billion pounds.

The fourth generation communication surveillance

The Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), as part of the Great Britain’s intelligence community, is surveilling phone, email and satellite communication, it provides SIGINT information and offers assistance and consultancy to government departments and armed forces in terms of their communication security and intelligence systems.

Although it recently celebrated 100 years since its foundation, the GCHQ did not get media’s attention too much.

There were not that much information about the Government code and cypher school, lately known, from 1946, as GCHQ. Maybe just the fact that it contributed to the World War II, deciphering Germans’ messages, with the team led by Alan Turing.

In 2013, GCHQ got the attention of the mass-media, when the former contractor of the American National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, revealed that his agency can collect all online and phone data in Great Britain, through Tempora.

The doughnut, a name given following the design of the headquarter it is in, became famous after there were revealed the details of the huge surveilling activities developed by GCHQ and its American partner, the NSA, when only those in the intelligence field knew about Tempora and Prism, another initiative which offered NSA and GCHQ access to emails and chat conversations.

The information went public after The Guardian revealed it, and they have also revealed that GCHQ gets 10 million pounds a year from NSA, to build and keep its collection and deciphering capacities, US getting, in return, access to a series of British programs like Tempora.

The Tier 1 priority (high-priority) in the National Security Strategy is the use of cyber-space by criminal networks and enemy states to attack the British government departments and companies.

Therefore, GCHQ tried to develop combat methods and, for quite some time, the Center has materialized its efforts.

In November last year, the technical chief of the National Cyber Security Center of GCHQ, Ian Levy, and the technical chief for cryptanalysis of GCHQ, Crispin Robinson, have published and essay wherein they are suggesting the use of a technique to redirect a message to a third party, while sending it to the dedicated user.

The authors, starting from being aware of the concerns on government’s access to private communication, have come to the conclusion that it would be quite easy for a services provider to silently add another participant to law enforcement to a group chat or call.

Levy and Robinson are saying that the proposal would be more intrusive than virtual crocodile clips, the applications currently used to copy call data during the digital exchanges. This essay made 47 signatories – civil society’s organizations, technology companies, trade associations, IT services providers, experts in the digital policies and security- including Apple, Google and WhatsApp- to ask GCHQ, in an open letter (May 2019), to give up their plans for the so-called phantom protocol, which is undermining users’ security and trust, being a serious threat against cybersecurity and human’s fundamental rights, including the confidentiality and the freedom of speech.

Ian Levy praised the letter, stating that they appreciate the reaction to access to data, for example to stopping terrorists, an hypothetical proposal, a premise for further discussions and interaction with the interested sides in finding better possible solutions.

The way GCHQ choses to act is suggesting the emergence of a fourth generation espionage.

A year ago, the Mi6 chief, Alex Younger, talked, in a speech at the St. Andrews University, from Scotland, about the way the intelligence organizations are adapting or should be adapting to the new challenges.

The quick changes are eroding the lines between real and virtual, between internal and international, state and non-state actors, war and peace, leading to ambiguity and hybrid threats.

This is the environment the intelligence services are working with, and such an organization has a great role: to create human relations as a bridge on cultural and linguistic barriers in the most challenging environments, to create trust between intelligence officers and people in the organizations they must understand.

In order to face the hybrid threats, the fourth generation espionage is intensifying partnerships, leads undercover operations in the digital world, reveals which are the costs of a damaging activity of the enemy and permanently innovates, to make sure technology will work for their own advantage, and not for the opponents.

Therefore, they must bring together special services and conscious citizens, in order to have an integrated intelligence community, as they also need to gather acknowledgements and abilities, given that it is no longer enough to know what the enemy is doing, but also to be able to change she/his behavior. And for that, they need people with new perspectives, able to use their creativity in unpreceded ways (Alex Younger).

Is the old deterrence strategy now becoming an education, culture and intelligence method? It seems that this is what the Great Britain intelligence community is planning to do.

Translated by Andreea Soare