Cyber UK 2019 "We're talking about how to design telecoms systems properly for the long term," National Cyber Security Centre CEO Ciaran Martin told press at UK.gov's infosec event in Glasgow today. "That is a bigger and sometimes different issue from the Chinese."
In what could be perceived as an attempt to draw a line under this morning's news of the National Security Council's (NSC) decision to keep Huawei out of the core of British 5G networks, Martin said: "Do not think of 5G networks as some sort of amorphous blob where there's a bit called 'sensitive' and a bit called 'non-sensitive'."
He later added, in reply to a question from El Reg, that "the decision, such as it would be, would be announced to Parliament" and that he had "never talked about NSC proceedings in 9.5 years [and was] not going to be able to start now".
Martin was also careful to distinguish between the generalised "China is a cybersecurity threat" view and the NCSC's specific technical remit, drawing a clear line between the two. While China, Russia and other cyber-naughty states are definitely on NCSC's (and thus GCHQ's) radar, they are secondary – in the public messaging, at least – to purely technical considerations.
"There's a whole bunch of things about the way systems are designed that are really important, in terms of these networks, that are about the way they're built," he said, speaking at his customary fast clip, adding: "There's a whole bunch of things around the threat from Russia."
We're all on the same side here, you know
As part of its general drive to shore up Britain's tech security defences, the NCSC is also making an explicit pitch to industry by opening itself up to working with non-public-sector bodies, large and small alike.
Paul Chichester, the NCSC's director of operations, said: "The first people we've been working with are ISPs and large communications service providers... it's about building that out, making that the norm and not the exception.
"We're not omnipotent, we don't know every threat out there. As part of the [security] jigsaw we need industry to develop their own capabilities and we can add our own element to that. The other important part is being the catalyst for change in those organisations so they realise the importance and the value of doing ops, security, monitoring, detection, threat hunting, to get ahead of that threat. So what we're trying to do is share knowledge but also in a much more strategic way."
This will go down well with SMEs, though it may cause muted concern within larger, non-infosec-focused organisations that have dragged their feet on security matters.
As Ian Levy, NCSC technical director, put it: "I think we're still seeing very common things happen that were happening 15 years ago. We've got to find some way of changing it. It's obvious the way we've been trying to get people to change this hasn't been working."
The public messaging from Cyber UK is that GCHQ, via NCSC, wants to be seen as a helpful aide to the private sector, expanding its infosec presence from defending the public sector to defending Britain as a whole. As a pitch to wider industry, this may spur on the breakthrough the agency needs, in terms of public confidence, in order to discharge its expanding remit. ®