Keynote speaker Robert Hannigan

Lionel Barber’s interview with Robert Hannigan, director of GCHQ

At a recent conference hosted by the National Cyber Security Centre, Lionel Barber interviewed the Director of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan. Citing an article written by Hannigan which criticised the way that some big tech companies had been “acting beyond control” and not sharing certain information with intelligence agencies, he commented: it generated a lot of debate, which is what I wanted,” Hannigan said. “It was a real problem at the time, which has calmed down and got better. I think I was trying to touch on the much bigger issue which is that the internet is new, these companies are relatively new, they’re trying to cope with the problem of wanting to be neutral conduits and gradually realised that they are responsible. This is evolving, and it’s a debate that is still going on, it will continue to evolve and reflects the fact that the internet is a relatively new creation, it’s a gloriously chaotic thing, and society is still trying to cope with how we deal with it and security.”

The discussion then moved on to the present day and the key threats and incidents that affected information security last year and how this affected GCHQ’s work. Robert Hannigan said that one of the reasons government wanted to act swiftly in setting up the NSCS was that they could see, at a commercial level, the rise in data threats was a real issue, but admitted that, if anything, they underestimated the early take-up.

“In our first three months, the incident management bit of the NCSC was much busier than it expected to be. That gives you a sense of the scale. There’s a lot of focus on state incidents, and with those affecting the financial sector, but a lot of it, as we often discuss, is about the delivery [of attacks].”

Robert Hannigan and Lionel Barber went on to discuss strategy for defending against cyber-threats, innovation in information protection and the biggest challenge whilst working with GCHQ.

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