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. Chris G

      Re: Global operating system

      I was under the impression that China was further developing their home grown Kylin OS so that they can become fully independent of Western OSs.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Global operating system

      The network is the computer

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Global operating system

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

      If you believe these numbers, which if I'm honest I do not.

      Surely your question should be Android (40.17%), Windows(32.39%), iOS(16.47%), OS X(7.07%) ...

    4. NonSSL-Login

      Re: Global operating system

      In this particular topic one assumes Global operating system = Communication networks.

      If you don't want to use chinese or russian hardware in your telephone and internet structure then you have to make your own equipment. Same with China and Russia if they want to get rid of western technology out of theirs.

      The problem is we can't trust our own UK or US government to do the right thing when creating our own equipment as they are hellbent in creating back doors and breaking the security, so its not much better than accepting the superior chinese 5g hardware for example.

      He talks about "industry standards" and its those standards both the GCHQ and the NSA like infiltrate and sway to a point they are insecure and not fit for purpose. Until they get off their mass surveillance horse I dont see how they can complain about foreign gear.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Global operating system

        Didn't the NSA deliberately introduce particularly weak coefficients into their peopoaws Eliptic encryption standard?

        Its not quite at the same level as the CIA being one of the co-owners of an ostensibly Swiss manufacturer of encrption machines (back when such things were commonly in use) but it does tend to cloud anything that the government(s) tell us. They're smart, motivated and extremely well funded -- just what you need to keep at least one step ahead of the rubes.

    5. PeteA

      Re: Global operating system

      To an extent, the "global operating system" is the emergent behaviour from the combination of all the various standards (formal and informal), legislation and "standard practice" that has developed over the years into a rather arcane IP-based API.

      It's all fractals-in-fractals ... what's the OS on my desktop? I'd probably say "Linux", although I really mean "a Linux kernel with a GNU userland and whatever other binaries I install". But in fact, that's just the OS I interact with. I imagine that each of my disks has an OS too (pointless having an ARM processor if not!!), along with all the other peripherals that gain "smarts" over time. So yeah, I buy into the idea of higher- and lower- level control planes^h^h^h operating systems. A shell running inside a container might _think_ it has an operating system, courtesy of the various kernel features (such as namespaces and cgroups) that have been cunningly kludged into the virtualisation construct known as "a container", but it doesn't really, it's just an illusion.

      When I deploy some workload into Kubernetes ... I'd suggest that the k8s API's come very close to Wikipedia's definition of an operating system ("An operating system (OS) is system software that manages computer hardware, software resources, and provides common services for computer programs. ") ... hmmm ... a bit like kubelet then? And how does kata fit in?

      Von Neumann / MIT architectures are interesting concepts. The reality is that we are rapidly moving to a much more distributed & interconnected system which resembles an ecological environment and has lots of different morphologies. Many of the inhabitants are symbionts (such as the OS on my HDD's), some are classic Von Neumann / MIT behemoths

  1. Dan 55 Silver badge

    tl;dr: We want obligatory BritCrypto™

    For the UK that means ensuring “a very small percentage of key technologies must be truly sovereign to retain strategic technical advantage – things like elements of the cryptographic technologies that protect the UK’s most sensitive information and capabilities.” Investing in such capabilities and “using statutory powers to restrict hostile foreign investment” will be needed.

    No back doors but a wide open front door.

    lf they really wanted sovereign technologies perhaps they should have advised the government not to flog off the ARM family silver.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Arm

      Who would you trust with ARM? How far down the list would you place the UK?

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: tl;dr: We want obligatory BritCrypto™

      lf they really wanted sovereign technologies perhaps they should have advised the government not to flog off the ARM family silver. ..... Dan 55

      If the return of that national treasure is decided absolutely vital, I'm pretty darned sure Japan's SoftBank, which apparently has it for sale for a piffling $40bn would be more than just happy to sell it back to a UK provisioned, sovereign wealth backed proxy.

      Admittedly though, whether the purchase would then be controlled by the UK government banking system, or the proxy provided or providing the action, is quite another question for asking and not to be answered for all the usual type of national security reasons which are designed to protect both lives sources and operational methodologies.

      1. Dave 15

        Re: tl;dr: We want obligatory BritCrypto™

        Perhaps softbank should gift the business secretary some shares in arm then he will buy it :)

  2. Chris G

    The irony of it all

    A government mandarin complaining about Chinese control.

    I note that the parties he most wishes to protect are, once again not the people that are the nation but business and institutions.

    He then goes on to speak of sovereign control of cryptography and security to protect open and democratic society but would quite appreciate having back doors that 'only' the sovereign powers can access.

    1. Dave 15

      Re: The irony of it all

      Just goes to show what an igonorant burke he is... a backdoor is available to all.

  3. RobLang

    Obvious irony aside...

    He's right that China is accelerating faster than we are. I live in central Reading (UK home of Oracle, Microsoft etc) and the best OpenReach speed I can get is 22MBps. No FTTP. That's laughable in the East. Infrastructure needs to be powered by government policy and if there isn't an appetite for sorting out the basics then it's fair to assume that the more nuanced ideas of security and privacy won't either.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Obvious irony aside...

      UK's middling broadband speed the result of generous UK government funding. The speed needs to improve enough to avoid becoming a vote loser but not so fast that there is no need for more pork. If you ask the government to do more they will hire someone like Ajit Pai.

      1. Adelio

        Re: Obvious irony aside...

        I live in huddersfield and via Virgin I have 200mb broadband (coax) and can go up to 300mb. City fibre has already laid fibre around huddersfield, i presume sometime this year I can go to fibre > 1gb.

        1. Cynic_999

          Re: Obvious irony aside...

          My sympathies. 300 milli bits per second is extremely slow.

          1. adam 40 Silver badge

            Re: Obvious irony aside...

            Not slow for Virgin though, I pay for 100 and rarely get > 20

            1. AndrueC Silver badge

              Re: Obvious irony aside...


              Which coincidentally is the sound you get when you have 200Mbs. If you only have 200mbs it's more like


    2. iron Silver badge

      Re: Obvious irony aside...

      Dude that's laughable in Glasgow, let alone the East.

    3. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: Obvious irony aside...

      I'm sitting out Covid lockdown in Andorra, which is one and a half degrees east of Greenwich. Basic internet here is 300Mbps fibre, 700Mbps available at extra cost. Fibre to the home is universal.

      It's no coincidence that telecoms is a state monopoly (necessarily, the market is not big enough to support competition). The government decided that everyone has to have fibre and instructed Anodrra Telecom to make it so. That was about 10 years ago.


      1. Dave 15

        Re: Obvious irony aside...

        State monopoly... or should we say what it is, a system whereby essentials are provided via the government in such a way that any profits made on the deal go directly to the national treasury and not some foreign investors so they can be used to reduce tax and or provide new services. Wow, what an idea. Pity we never had that in the UK... oh, what, we did? You mean the Tory and Labour parties have forced the plebs to pay for the development of these things then sold them to their mates for knock down prices and then ripped the plebs off with massive bills, lack of investment and finally the insult of watching the CEO pocket billions in bonuses while sacking stacks of people thus increasing the burden of unemployment on the tax payer..... oh my, and people are claimed to vote for this?

    4. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: Obvious irony aside...

      the best OpenReach speed I can get is 22MBps. No FTTP. That's laughable in the East.

      One person's experience doesn't really prove much. You are well below the UK average connection speed (64Mb/s as of 2020) so all we know is that you're one of the unlucky ones.

      Regardless you can have almost any connection speed you can imagine almost anywhere you want it. You just have to be prepared to pay for it. That's been the case for a good couple of decades now. There's almost nowhere BT (or its competitors) can't get a fibre optic cable termination point given enough financial encouragement.

      If your use case is important enough to help the UK compete internationally it should be possible to justify that high cost. It sounds like you probably have FTTC available (ADSL can go that fast but not often) so have you checked the BT availability checker? A lot of areas that have FTTC (possibly most) have FTTPoD available.

      Incidentally - can you explain exactly what it is you'd like to do that is impossible with 22Mb/s?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Deluded....or What?

    What mystical universe is Jeremy Fleming living in?

    Quote #1: " which hardwires data collection in ways that go against the interests and values of open, democratic societies...."

    Oh.....I suppose Jeremy Fleming has never heard of Edward Snowden!!

    Quote #2: "...the UK’s current policy settings are decent..."

    Relevant link:

  5. xyz Silver badge

    Brief translation...

    Bigger budget please. The rest of the crap spouted made me laugh though.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Brief translation...

      China has become the go to reason for government agency budget requests.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    potential to control the global operating system

    of course it's allright when WE control the global operating system, because it benefits US, never mind the rest of the world, whey don't they rejoice for sharing scraps, eh? Whereas when THEY want to control the GOS it's a threat! menace! danger! erosion! collapse! cats being microwaved on low power! We-control - goood. They-control baaad!

    p.s. in the long run, our system is gonna 'win', because humans are a lazy, unorganized bunch, and if you try to re-form them to become hard-working and organized, this is not not gonna last. Unless TECHNOLOGY ;)

    1. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

      Re: potential to control the global operating system

      "We-control - goood. They-control baaad"

      Yes, that's pretty much it, that's what all sides think. That's what has defined most conflict throughout the ages, regardless of it was specifically about language, religion, land, resources, money, business (money again) or future international standards for vital electronic components and their interfaces.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    China without Xi, Russian without Putin

    You can see that neither Xi nor Putin represent the "hive mind" of their people they claim to represent. If they did they wouldn't need the "authoritarian" part to control those people!

    Putin has clearly never won an election since 2012 and possibly earlier. Xi and the Chinese communist party stopped pretending to even hold elections. Xi simply being appointed for life.

    So, instead of this negative spiral you've helped the UK go into, instead of lumping together groups by how the dictator *wants* you to lump them together, how about you lead a positive upward spiral instead?

    Secure end to end encrypted communications. A country free from mass surveillance. Freedom to protest, no more secret police intelligence unit, no more ACPO, NDEU, NPOIU and their ilk outside the scope of democratic control and FOI requests. Help the people of China and Russia communicate in secure free ways, give them a beacon to aspire to, not a negative label to overcome.

    Also I disagree that somehow Russia is the weather and China is the climate. Russia is using a different attack mechanism: funding politicians/judges with dark money to take control. It's *very*successfully* creeping across Europe and the US, and the more you build your 'authoritarian' mechanisms to 'defeat' this threat the more you create the ready-to-go authoritarian control.

    Russia is the most imminent threat, and its the major one. Those troops they're massing on Ukraine border, are not theoretical. If Russian invades Ukraine, Georgia should be ready to take back South Ossetia, and Europe should be ready to take control of Karlingsgrad and Transnistria. If he invades Georgia, Ukraine should be ready to take back Crimea, and you don't stop at the borders with Russia. Recognize how serious the threat *Putin* is to Europe, and tackle *Putin*.

    Also lets not pretend here, you follow your boss, and if your boss is a Russian operative, you follow Russia. This is about budget, you're not on a mission to protect the UK from threats, your mission is to protect your budgets from being cut. You're not weighing up the threats the UK faces, your leveraging the rhetoric of the day to try to get your next budget increase.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Europe should be ready to take control of Karlingsgrad and Transnistria

      but, dear Sir, we, the citizens of Europe, recently detached from the shores of the Great! Nation! of Brits, Welshpersons, Scots, etc - want to live in PEACE. And PROSPERITY. Taking control of K-grad and Transnistria by the super-duper pan-European, hi-tech, (non-existent) new model army is a GREAT plan to further PEACE and PROSPERITY for Europe! Moreover, gaspadin Putin, whose putinocracy is slowly, but surely, crumbling, would love that too! And let the Ukrainians chip in, that would be fun too! And NATO! And Turkey! And Israel! And Saudi Arabia and wakey-wakey Iran's coming, and when we're at it, why not Armenia v. Azerbaijan again, with a bit of Iranian v. Turkish tech to spice it a little. Gimme WAR man, that would solve a a crisis or two :)

      1. onemark03

        ... take control of Karlingsgrad ...

        Is it possible that you mean that Russian exclave "Kaliningrad" on the Baltic just north of Poland

        1. Tail Up

          Re: ... take control of Karlingsgrad ...

          Err.. how spells correctly, Iraq or Iran?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: China without Xi, Russian without Putin

      Googling "Karlingsgrad" returned no hits. Did you mean Kaliningrad?

    3. Cynic_999

      Re: China without Xi, Russian without Putin

      You are behaving like a boiling frog, unable to see how the UK is slowly but inexorably following exactly the same path. When all our election choices amount to choosing the least bad government rather than a government we really want, there is no democracy. Thousands of new and far-reaching laws have been passed in the past decade, most being deliberately vague, which can and have been used to criminalise behaviour that is far from the reason the law was promoted to prevent. Of course, all the laws and infrastructure being used to control the population are promoted as being necessary to keep us "safe".

      Safe from threats that are either grossly exaggerated, and/or are ones that our own government created.

    4. naive

      Re: China without Xi, Russian without Putin

      History doesn't backup claims about Russia being an aggressive country, they never engaged in offensive wars, and why should they, they have land enough.

      Even the wars against Finland were about border disputes, since Finland used to be a part of imperial Russia.

      Truman and Churchill gave the Russians East-Europe as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, that was no aggression on their side either. They defend what is theirs, and if your name happens to be Ukraine, it is bad luck, you have been part of the Russian empire for many centuries.

      Russia is totally in its right to fight off NATO encroachment, it is their country. USA wouldn't be happy either when Chinese PLA starts building bases in Mexico and Canada.

      The only reason Russia would use their army against Europe is the lack of a viable resistance in the EU, most EU countries do not have armies or functional equipment enabling them to fight a longer war with a strong adversary like Russia.

      1. nematoad Silver badge

        Re: China without Xi, Russian without Putin

        "Truman and Churchill gave the Russians East-Europe as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact..."

        You need to check your history.

        The Molotov-Ribbentrop was cooked up just prior to the start of hostilities in August 1939. In it the two parties agreed to a non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and further assigned spheres of influence over states in the central part of Europe.

        The agreement reached at the Yalta conference between Britain, the USSR and the USA in 1945 was aimed at settling the post-war states of Europe which ultimately led the the Iron Curtain and Cold War.

        The two agreements both set out to arrange European affairs to the benefit of the contracting parties. Both failed in their aims.

    5. Tail Up
      IT Angle

      Re: Anonymous poster - China without Xi, Russian without Putin

      You must be a one of these chess players that come boozed to play and leave on their four. Lost, surely.

      One could watch less commanding pixels on a TV screen and more asking the population representatives on the territories you invade with black and white figures, if they are really for a w*r or any other conflicting issues.

      All that the pixels really need from your ilk is your obedient financing the removing the outdated pieces of iron shit out from ammo depots on a global scale to stuff it heavily with the new one. Dare to guess where the staff goes?

      Right, man. To their European and African trading partners, represented by Pixelatrix throgh a "democratic" procedure as their population's representatives zombifying their people with tales about the "Eastern aggressors", while, in fact, the aggressors are military production-based, Hollywood shit-supported economics, protected from the sky piss by the umbrella of some high-ranked wannabe forever-living officers and bureaucracy clerks.

      Ah, Uigurs. What s vast array to poke loads of the dated weaponry into this territory. What a endless space will be opened for storing the brand new killing machines on the land where peaceful families serve as a covering shield for this ugly racket.

      Hope, this is the global operating system that "China" wants to crack and which was meant by Mr Flemming, especially when you suddenly find that there is no even a slightest wiff of sorrow in his word about this coming up beginning of the event. Because what else GOS can he mean, BGP churn? Protonicity instead of electricity? Huh?

      Care trying not posting Anon when replying to the post on such matter, or would one prefer being taken for a cockroach from the propaganda bot kitchen?

      Dear Reg and Reggers, I tried making my reply non-political. Beg your pardon if something. Накипело. Умники, бля, намотрятся по тв всякой хуйни с похмелья, и несут чушь в массы...

    6. Dave 15

      Re: China without Xi, Russian without Putin

      Thing is that if we want to stop China and Russia we are going to have to force companies back out of both (I mean, you HAVE to have a factory in China to sell there, so why cant we do similar or even more draconian) The EU basically mandated we buy Russian gas, now we are out of it lets start digging up coal , converting sewer methane or producing liquid fuel from air in order to stop supporting Russia. With all things if we continue giving them money we cant complain when they continue to get stronger (and obviously we get weaker as the money leaves)

  8. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    MRDA ...... and it's certainly been said and is easily made universally available

    How very perceptive of GCHQ leadership/systems administration, however ...... at such "a moment of reckoning" how does one practically effect virtual command for absolute control is the gazillion dollar, money shot question?

    Having identified and accepted the why it may be needed to be elitely exclusively exercised, following through with suitable future ACTions is that which is altogether much more taxing for forces and sources engaging in what are most definitely extremely obscure, enigmatic circles pondering on almighty royal and ancient round table type operations.

    In the light of an earlier submission to El Reg on Really Good Stuff today and under the glow of GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming's rhetoric as expressed and conveyed in the final three paragraphs of the article being commented on here, and they were refreshingly encouraging, I certainly know what some would be expecting to very quickly happen before everything is strategically lost, and tactical lead is exercised magnificently elsewhere by other able parties both alien and foreign and well beyond an Effective Oppositional Remote ACTive Command and Control, rather than being more comfortably home-grown based and bred and further developed.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He is somewhat correct, but there is a better solution - stop pouring government money into half baked ideas like "smart cities", and the attendant piles of cheap technology crap won't be a problem. I think we have forgotten the value that humans can provide, and are on a mis-guided mission attempting to replace skills and experience with tech.

  10. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Russia is affecting the weather, whilst China is shaping the climate

    whilst Britain is moaning about the rain.

    Somebody explain the concept of open source to him please.

    1. Tail Up

      Re: Russia is affecting the weather, whilst China is shaping the climate

      Ahha, Russia. Thousands of years of changing the Sun into the Rainfall On Islands (-;

      Always at ur service.

      China, come in.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: whilst Britain is moaning about the rain.

      ironically, Russia is moaning about the rain, as it's going to wreck their Victory Day Parade! Victory celebrations! And - most importantly - they habit of outdoor grilling everything slightly consumable in sight, on account of the V-day...

      Britain's moaning about the frost, cause it's f... almost-May!

      1. Tail Up

        Re: whilst Britain is moaning about the rain.

        Ah, please don't mind that. Weaponry waterproofed, as well as people, the Invited Visitors warmed up accordingly, and - Fcuk The Coronavirus!

  11. Mike 137 Silver badge

    This sounds a bit like political posturing

    If I understood the rather vague argument, it is fundamentally "West good: China and Russia bad" like in Animal Farm.

    The concept that global electronic services are currently "good" but could be perverted by the "Bad East" fails to take into account the perversity of the current Western policies that drive them - competition for global domination of entire service sectors and money grabbing.

    The fantasy that the internet has ever been universally dedicated to human wellbeing is just that - a fantasy. Even when the internet was Arpanet, the driving force for its design was conflict resilience.

  12. iron Silver badge

    Insecure, broken and undemocratic... sounds like GCHQ to me.

  13. Dave 15

    Didnt you notice

    The BRITISH government has managed to force censorship

    The BRITISH police in Northumbria are forcing ALL motorcyclists to have trackers on their bikes for speed etc. etc.

    The BRITISH MPs and ministers are taking backhanders, gifts and even begging for them ... in return for 'obviously not related' cough cough conincidental awards of juicy contracts or laws to benefit them.

    FFKS these days the UK is NO better than China... in many ways its worse because it keeps lieing about being better.

    1. Adelio

      Re: Didnt you notice

      " forcing ALL motorcyclists to have trackers on their bikes"

      Really, I find it very hard to believe, link please.

      1. Cynic_999

        Re: Didnt you notice

        "Forcing" does not have to be brought about by explicit law. If insurance is legally mandatory, and insurance will cost 100 times more if you don't have a tracker, then having a tracker is also effectively mandatory.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Didnt you notice

        Try searching for "BRITISH police in Northumbria are forcing ALL motorcyclists to have trackers on their bikes". I did and it actually is true according to the article on Visordown. I see that going well.

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