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Volume 525: debated on Monday 14 March 2011

As we set out in the strategic defence and security review, we attach a high priority to the cyber-defence of our systems. Since I last updated the House in December, we have made considerable progress in this area. Our new global operations and security control centre is now up and running, and we have commissioned a new monitoring system to detect cyber-attacks against our defence systems. We have also appointed a very senior military officer to lead a defence cyber-security programme to transform our approach over the next four years and to meet our SDSR commitments. The House will understand if I do not comment further on the detail of the measures we take to protect our systems, but we are not complacent—we must outmatch a rapidly changing threat.

Is the Minister aware of the concerns expressed by Dr Kim Howells, former Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, regarding the close links between BT and the Chinese telecoms firm, Huawei, which has close links to the red army? Does the Minister agree that that could make us more vulnerable to cyber-attack from China, and what steps can he take to reduce that risk?

The recent Green Paper on equipment, support and technology identified cyberspace as both one of the benefits and one of the risks of the modern world. We are developing a joint approach with industry because of our mutual reliance on networks, which gives us the opportunity to discuss with BT and others both those benefits and the risks to which the hon. Gentleman alludes.

Given that the important threat from cyberspace affects both the private and public sectors, what steps is my hon. Friend taking to encourage innovative solutions from the private sector to help the public sector?

We have started a relationship with the private sector, and there has been an initial meeting with private sector leaders at Downing street. It is essential that we have the maximum co-operation between the private and public sectors, because many of the networks on which public services depend are managed under contract by the private sector. It is also essential that there is good international engagement with our allies, and there will be new memorandums of understanding with some of them shortly.

In the light of allegations that I gather will be made tonight on the “Panorama” programme that the News of the World was hacking into mobile phones and computers used by the Army in Northern Ireland, will the Minister ensure that the security of mobile telephones used by the Army will be protected from newspapers as well as from other agents?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and we will do everything we can to ensure the maximum security of all our communication methods.

With the reporting of an ever increasing number of cyber-attacks and the increasing costs of such attacks, will the Minister confirm that the £650 million announced in the SDSR for cyber-security has been ring-fenced for new capabilities? Will he also confirm the time scale for full delivery of those capabilities?

The money to which the hon. Gentleman alludes covers the whole SDSR period. It is new money intended to help prime the efforts of both the public and private sectors, as I said a moment ago, to ensure that the nation as a whole has in place the maximum possible defences over the next few years. It is a fast-changing scene, and it is essential that we keep up with the ever changing threat.