back to article GCHQ boss warns China can rewrite 'the global operating system' in its own authoritarian image

The director of the UK's signals intelligence agency has delivered a speech in which he contemplated power in the digital age, observing that "China's size and technological weight means that it has the potential to control the global operating system," and hinting at an expanded role for the agency he leads as one way to fight …

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  1. _LC_ Silver badge
    Stop

    Who are they addressing?

    When it has become clear to everyone that the GCHQ is considering the own population an enemy, then who the fuck are they addressing?

    Translation:

    Primary problem for Brits and Europeans?

    A [ . ] China

    B [ . ] GCHQ and similar diseases

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Who are they addressing?

      Exactly.

      China is far from being a threat as far as I'm concerned. The NSA and its snooping largely predates any issues with the "global operating system".

      What kind of bollocks is this anyway ? There is no such thing as a global operating system. There is, however, Google and Facebook, and they are not under chinese control.

      It's very interesting to see this guy harp on about global impact when, ten years ago, the discussions were about the balkanization of the Internet. China and Russia both exert tight control over Internet access for their citizens (so does North Korea, but who cares ?). Any dictatorship worth the name will do the same in the blink of an eye if it deems that its power is in danger (cf Pakistan).

      Where's your global operating system in all that ?

      And, as far as digital currencies are concerned, don't make me laugh. The only reason for these are for government surveillance. My own government wants to track my activity down to the last penny.

      China is not the threat. It's you lot that are hell-bent on anally probing my life.

      1. TVU

        Re: Who are they addressing?

        "China is far from being a threat as far as I'm concerned"

        You might care to tell that to the Uighur population in East Turkestan/Xinjiang and to the democratically-inclined population of Hong Kong.

        Also China is already a known and identified perpetrator of cyber attacks on democratic states and corporations therein.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Who are they addressing?

          >You might care to tell that to the Uighur population

          But that's not a threat to me.

          ISIS are definitely naughtier than my local police dept. But they aren't able to behead me at a traffic stop

          1. Dave 15 Silver badge

            Re: Who are they addressing?

            Clearly you're not black then

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Who are they addressing?

              Now that you bring race into the discussion, regretably and totally unnecessarily, your comment does need correcting, according to the published data:

              In 2019, 15 unarmed black people were shot and killed by on-duty police officers, compared with 25 whites.

              Furtthermore, regardless of whether armed or unarmed, these are the total stats:

              https://www.statista.com/statistics/1124036/number-people-killed-police-ethnicity-us/

              Personally, I don't wish for the Police to kill anyone, nor do I wish for hoodlums to kill innocent people: Regardless. Of. Ethnicity.

              Only those in charge profit from dividing, then conquering, our societies.

              1. Claverhouse Silver badge

                Re: Who are they addressing?

                In 2019, 15 unarmed black people were shot and killed by on-duty police officers, compared with 25 whites.

                In replying to a British pontification, you may like to point out those are American statistics... Our cops generally limit themselves to 2 or 3 a year regardless of colour; and those are not 'unarmed'.

                Although I would guess an unarmed person could be extremely dangerous, especially under the influence of certain drugs.

              2. CRConrad

                Comparing numbers

                Ah, so three eighths -- 37.5% -- of people shot by Yank police were black, just like 37.5% of the USian population in general is black? All fine and dandy, then, no over-representation at all... Except that far fewer than 37.5% of Yanks are black, so they do disproportionally often get killed by Yank cops.

                People who downplay shit like this are the ones doing most of the "dividing our societies". People like, you know: You.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Who are they addressing?

            >> But that's not a threat to me.

            Maybe true today but.... when oppressive policies can grow without opposition, chances are there will be some impact your neighborhood eventually.

            Even though I may not be too fond of this particular messenger, I tend to heed this particular message.

            1. lotus123

              Re: Who are they addressing?

              >"when oppressive policies can grow without opposition"

              You mean you mean something like Windrush scandal or jailing your postal workers without even a hint of punishing perpetrators?

        2. Dave 15 Silver badge

          Re: Who are they addressing?

          Further to the China a threat, yes they are, they are currently working on taking Taiwan among other things.

          One thing IS for sure EVERY time you buy a made in China product you are supporting this regime. That is EVERY time you support a company that has moved its production to China. I now make a point of asking the company where there products are made ... many of them say China, so I tell them why I am not buying it. There ARE companies that manufacture stuff in the UK, even toys and models, I buy products from these guys (sometimes even if I dont actually need it) to support UK manufacturing, UK jobs and keep money and growth in the UK. Those companies that want to support China can go and stick it where the sun doesnt shine.

          1. lotus123

            Re: Who are they addressing?

            >"EVERY time you buy a made in China product you are supporting this regime"

            That's upside down. Here, lemme fix it - every time Government lets imports from China it is supporting this regime. It is not a job of a working to figure out what the are to buy in stores. They are not being paid for this.

          2. Tron

            Re: Who are they addressing?

            So, the computing device you posted from has no Chinese-sourced components?

            And you buy things you don't need just to support the economy? Do you get an award from Boris for that?

        3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: You might care to tell that to the Uighur population

          I know about the Uighurs. I do not approve.

          But that has nothing to do with the Internet.

      2. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: Who are they addressing?

        The UK has internet censorship laws which block access to search results so we are NO better than China, North Korea or Russia, no better at all. We cant even see what they are blocking 'to protect us' - they say 'child porn', 'violence', 'extremism', 'terrorism' ... but frankly this covers a HUGE amount on their terms.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Who are they addressing?

        I expect they might be referring to Chinese proposals for a reworked version of the Internet Protocol, which would make it easier for governments to control what citizens can access.

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Who are they addressing?

          It would be our fault for failing to implement a viable alternative to IPv4 over a decade after its limitations started hobbling the Internet. Should China come up with a practical alternate protocol, it will be adopted by default.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Who are they addressing?

            "It would be our fault for failing to implement a viable alternative to IPv4 over a decade after its limitations started hobbling the Internet."

            Wrong. The Chinese proposal doesn't supplant IPV4. Also, we have a replacement for that: IPV6. Despite some issues with backward compatibility due to more IPV4 design mistakes, it's gaining usage. China's proposal replaces TCP, not IPV4. Try again.

      4. vtcodger Silver badge

        Re: Who are they addressing?

        There is no such thing as a global operating system.

        And in any case every multiuser OS I've ever seen has, of necessity, at least one admin account that can do pretty much whatever it damn well pleases. One account to rule them all and in the darkness bind them. How much more authoritarian can you get?

        And, as far as digital currencies are concerned, ... The only reason for these are for government surveillance.

        Seems to me that there is a use case for an anonymous digital currency for small transactions. You wave your "wallet" (whatever it's physical form) at a parking meter or chewing gum dispenser and a small amount of value moves from your possession to someone else's in return for a few minutes of parking or a pack of gum. Doesn't require one to have tokens (coins) of the proper dimensions and mass or to physically transfer a token. Can it be done? I haven't the slightest.

        But if it can be/is done, I doubt it will require blockchain.

        And I imagine that it'll be anonymous because tracking who spent how much for what for small transactions will almost certainly be more trouble than it is worth.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Who are they addressing?

          "Can it be done? I haven't the slightest."

          It's very successful in HK with the Octopus card.

        2. Dave 15 Silver badge

          Re: Who are they addressing?

          The governments have tried with credit cards, and even got it with Sweden who dont use cash anymode

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Who are they addressing?

          Reread the quote in full. He is using a metaphor.

          Paraphrasing - if the world economy is like a phone, russia has the capability to create malicious apps, china has the ability to rewrite its operating system.

          Its not a great metaphor, and it lands badly for a tech audience, but he was not implying that there is a "one global operating system" and that "china is rewriting it"

        4. Claptrap314 Silver badge

          Re: Who are they addressing?

          If you want anonymous, secure, spend-only-once money, then you ARE talking either blockchain or some technology very much like it. As we've seen, however, there are serious scaling issues.

      5. osakajin Silver badge

        Re: Who are they addressing?

        All authority is the threat.

      6. jgard

        Re: Who are they addressing?

        Hey, I know It's difficult to accept you're nothing special, but once you do, you'll realise NSA/GCHQ are not interested in you. And believe me they're even less interested in your anus. Fundamentally, your fundament is perfectly safe - from GCHQ at least - unless you are a real bad geezer. They really aren’t bothered about you; this is about keeping us - by that I mean ostensibly free democracies - free.

        The weapons have changed. In the past it was guns, tanks, and nukes, if Khrushchev wanted to put pressure on the west, he would blockade Berlin, or ship nukes to Cuba. The west could respond in kind with naval blockades or airlifts. And although tanks and bombs are still important, the main threats have moved online.

        They now involve disruption of power grids, interference with military systems, disabling telecoms and internet backbones etc. Much more nefarious are their less obvious aims of subverting individual freedom, freedom of markets, democracy, free expression, political sovereignty etc. China is a totalitarian and authoritarian regime; there is no political or religious freedom, no freedom of expression - a wrong word gets you a bullet in the head. Like all authoritarian states, it is run by power hungry despots who lack any humanity and will do anything to keep and extend their power. Look at Hong Kong for Christ’s sake, China invaded and consumed it against all external objections and outrage, and against the brave local people who fought it. BTW - they didn't fight and risk all for a laugh, they did it because they were terrified for their families’ lives and freedoms.

        China invaded because they could, but that geographical / strategic leverage (i.e. being next door and having a huge military) is less and less important. In the future, invasion and control of another state will be done electronically. But it won't be possible overnight, it will be through injecting malware on an enormous scale, firmware disguised in hardware to call home or disrupt power stations; by them slowly taking control of standards bodies; insertion of a backdoor here and there, using their increasing economic power and huge scale to replace hardware, software and standards. Given the free reign to expand, they would have capability to impose absolute control on anything they liked, unilaterally and on a global scale: including disruption of stock markets, whole currencies and economies, outlawing privacy, censoring speech, controlling our lives and eliminating our freedoms.

        I'm afraid your rant is just plain silly. I realise people might have complaints against living in US or UK society, problems with politics or foreign policy. But if you think for one moment they are even remotely as immoral, unethical, expansionist and globally dangerous as China and/or Russia you're deluded. How many US/UK citizens do you see emigrating to China and gaining Chinese nationality while surrendering a UK/US passport?

        GCHQ are absolutely spot on – our freedom and security really do depend on tackling this head on, and with every ally we can find. I’m sure they would also like to reassure citizens that their anus and associated anatomy is perfectly safe.

        1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

          Re: Who are they addressing?

          While all the above is true, the distinctively illiberal tendencies in the West create a certain amount of hollowness to these statements. Remind me again about which countries have significant interests pushing for backdoors in all communications systems? As for freedom of expression, let's talk about what is happening with RMS.

          As a formal matter of policy, the West remains much, much more free than then Chinese have ever had it (outside Hong Kong). But in practice, we are losing a LOT both formally and informally.

      7. sreynolds

        Re: Who are they addressing?

        I can't figure out whom it is that they are really talking about. He really needed to use an analogy with a milkshake - that would have made it crystal clear.

    2. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: Who are they addressing?

      @_LC_

      Perhaps if you are so impressed with China you would like to go and live in Hong Kong.

      @Pascal

      'Global Operating System' is a metaphor.

    3. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
      Devil

      Re: Who are they addressing?

      I think they are basically addressing the people who sign off their budget, using the time honoured strategy:

      1. There is a big external threat over there

      2. We are the only people who know how to save you from it

      3. So give us more money for executive bonuses enhanced capabilities to deal with the threat

      Works more often than not, if I recall. :(

      1. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: Who are they addressing?

        Perhaps they should set up a company, gift some shares and then offload it as a contract.

      2. jgard

        Re: Who are they addressing?

        You mean like Churchill and the military top brass were trying in the 1930s? ;)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who are they addressing?

      To extend Fleming's earlier metaphor:

      Russia is affecting the weather, China is shaping the climate, while GCHQ is pissing in your raincoat.

      If you think GCHQ is the greatest threat, that's likely because you're distracted enough by your pockets being full of piss, to not care that the floodwater is rising up your ankles

  2. Blazde Bronze badge
    Joke

    Russia is affecting the weather

    Great to see GCHQ is all over this 'Beast from the East' issue we've been having each winter lately. Sooner that's solved the better.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Russia is affecting the weather

      Yes but their solution is to attack Belgium

      1. Tail Up

        Re: Russia is affecting the weather

        Вы там совсем ебанулись / Absolutely ridiculous statement

        1. Potemkine! Silver badge

          Re: Russia is affecting the weather

          Ridiculous indeed

          1. Tail Up

            Re: Russia is affecting the weather

            Indeed it was an ordinary algo for messing with Belgian telecom . While, regarding the previous comment, search algos added a fact of developing a non-existing plan to attack Belgium, which one was flagged as real, to their data churn.

            Some sort of a game, alright. Thank you.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Russia is affecting the weather

      Ah! So that's why the spring weather in Spain has been so shite this year.

      I woke up to heavy fog, rain and wind today, temp of 14C all at the same time, not very normal for Mediterranean Spain but if it's the Russians I will be writing a stiff letter to Mr Putin.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Russia is affecting the weather

        >Ah! So that's why the spring weather in Spain has been so shite this year.

        No that's Brexit. All those expats moved to Spain for the nice weather, they return 'home' the weather isn't going to be nice = logical really.

  3. osakajin Silver badge

    I'm not even going to bother commenting on the hypocrisy.

  4. DCdave
    Joke

    Global operating system

    So does he consider the global operating system Windows or Linux? Discuss here without invective or religious fervour.

    1. 45RPM Silver badge

      Re: Global operating system

      Neither. The global operating system is Stupidity, if past evidence is anything to go by.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Global operating system

        Hey, it's FOSS and has *a lot* of contributors, so it's good, amirite?

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Global operating system

      >So does he consider the global operating system Windows or Linux?

      Taking the obvious corollary being made, it doesn't really matter, effectively we have a duopoly in computer OS's. In this situation, it does become possible and given the discussions about MS and Linux also it becomes desirable in some quarters, to control those OS's,

      1. jgard
        Joke

        Re: Global operating system

        I think it may have been intended as a metaphor.

        What you are suggesting is RidiculOS.

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Global operating system

      Neither (*). I would go with the firmware in mass storage devices, USB device firmware and the Intel Management Engine.

      (*): Router and internet connected TV firmware is also on my list and is usually Linux based.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Global operating system

        I would actually suggest that it's actually more fundamental than that.

        In countries that descend from the common law tradition the basis of our laws is written that you are free to do anything that you wish to do, apart from specified things that are prohibited by laws defining what you can't do.

        In other parts of the world (and even Europe, ie the Code Civil the basis of the laws is that everything is prohibited unless permitted by law.

        This leads to things like this:-

        https://www.thelocal.fr/20140521/french-teen-drone-flight-film-fine/

        ie; French kid films really good promotional video of his town; gets prosecuted and fined for doing it without a permit and considers emigrating to a less restrictive country. In western countries he'd probably have had a job offer from a media agency instead.

        That is a minor and almost spurious example, but the basic architecture and philosophy behind the internet was written by people who had been raised in our society and this does actually matter; it's why SMTP just sends emails from any mail server to any mailserver and is pretty much totally decentralised. If a totalitarian country had of developed email then the system design would probably have required you to route your emails via the government post office which would be delivered them when they'd read them and approved the content. DNS is pretty uncontrollable by the state; what would it have looked like if China had of developed it?

        What might the next generation of platforms look like if people raised in a dictatorship designed even the basic architecture to be used?

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Global operating system

          The UK has made many laws that cover such wide and vague areas of activity that it amounts to making many things illegal unless explicitly permitted. Does anyone remember the teen who took a short-cut through unused land when cycling to and from work? Normally that would not be illegal (at most it would be a civil case of trespass). But it turned out that the land was owned by the MOD and she was arrested under the Terrorism Act.

          It is a serious crime to be in possession of anything that may be of use to a terrorist. Think about that for a while.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Global operating system

          That's BS, and your example is BS, too.

          Things are not forbidden by default in France. Your link explicitly states that the kid in question violated existing laws, and you may be aware, however dimly, that drones can't be flown just anywhere in the UK or the US, either.

          The dumb kid was such a precious entitled snowflake, he expected the seller to tell him everything about the laws applying to him. You know, as opposed to do a 5-minute search on the internet, himself.

        3. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Global operating system

          >ie; French kid films really good promotional video of his town; gets prosecuted and fined for doing it without a permit

          The UK has similar legal constraints concerning the flying of drones in public places; expect at some stage TPTB will decide they need to set an example and so embark on similar style prosecutions.

          Remember the daftness of the Derbyshire police in some of their lockdown enforcements - in one case deciding that a cup of coffee (on its own) was a picnic, in contradiction of legal definitions/precedence on what constitutes a 'picnic'.

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