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Fending off cyber attacks as important as combatting terrorism, says new GCHQ chief

Director Jeremy Fleming sets out priorities for intel agency

Keeping the UK safe from cyber attacks is now as important as fighting terrorism, the new GCHQ boss has said.

Jeremy Fleming, director of the signals intelligence service, said increased funding for GCHQ was being spent on making it a "cyber-organisation" as much as an intelligence and counter-terrorism unit.

Fleming, who joined GCHQ from the security service (MI5) earlier this year, told The Telegraph: "If GCHQ is to continue to help keep the country safe as we prepare for our second century, then protecting the digital homeland – keeping our citizens safe and free online – must become and remain as much part of our mission as our global intelligence reach and our round-the-clock efforts against terrorism."

The UK's National Cyber Security Centre said last week that there had been 590 "significant" cyber attacks needing a national response in the last year, as previously reported. This included the WannaCry ransomware outbreak that disrupted the operations of several NHS trusts back in May and attacks on parliamentary email systems in June, among others.

Fleming's take on the importance of cybersecurity are the most extensive public comments he has made since leaving MI5 to head up GCHQ, but they shouldn't be confused as a significant shift in priorities or policies by the UK government. For example, the government reaffirmed cyber as a tier-one threat in its 2015 National Security Strategy (PDF, page 13) and has committed to spending £1.9bn between 2016 and 2021 on updating this. Cyber has been treated as a tier-one threat since the 2010 defence review. ®

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