Saturday, November 26, 2011
GCHQ could sell its skills and technology to the private sector as part of efforts to protect the country from online attacks, it has been revealed.
The listening post in Cheltenham is to look at commercial applications for encryption techniques and other expertise that is not considered top secret.
The move is part of the Government's cyber security strategy, which has a four-year £650 million budget, and is designed to tackle the "real and growing" threat from criminals, terrorists, and hostile states.
A new national police cyber crime unit would also be created by 2013, and forces were being urged to recruit more special constables with relevant skills – nicknamed 'iPlods'.
The strategy document said GCHQ's "world-class expertise in cyber security" should be used to "benefit economic growth".
It would explore working "with private sector partners to explore the potential commercial applications".
A Government-sponsored venture capital model could also be set up to help fund innovation in cyber security in small and medium-sized enterprises.
However, the strategy stressed that none of the activities would "compromise the agency's core security and intelligence mission".
Officials were understood to have in mind instances where GCHQ had come up with cutting-edge technology, such as encryption systems, decades before it had emerged commercially.
The organisation has been barred from exploiting its innovations even when they no longer need to be secret.
The Government's National Security Strategy last year classed cyber-security as one of the UK's top defence priorities, alongside terrorism, international military crises and natural disasters.
Concerns have been raised about sophisticated attacks seemingly mounted by states, such as China and Russia, against key infrastructure.
A new Defence Cyber Operations Group is being set up in the Ministry of Defence to develop "military cyber capabilities" for countering threats.
It is understood it would also consider "pro-active" responses, which could include retaliation in kind. The unit would look at drafting in reservists with specialist knowledge and skills.
A pilot is due to begin in December for five business sectors – defence, telecoms, finance, pharmaceuticals and energy.