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Cyber attacks will 'catastrophically' spook public, warns GCHQ

Cheltenham spies 'cyber arms race'

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Cyber arms race

Government eavesdroppers also face a secret "cyber arms race" to develop quantum cryptography technology, according to GCHQ.

"In the next 5 to 10 years, states are likely to engage in a cyber arms race for quantum cryptanalysis, which would enable the users to crack any encryption within a very short space of time, and for quantum cryptography, which would prevent secure communications from being intercepted," it said.

Quantum computers would be able to test every possible cipher for a traditionally-encrypted message very quickly. Meanwhile a quantum-encrypted message would be impossible to intercept because just by observing it the eavesdropper would destroy it.

GCHQ - the descendent of the UK's famous World War Two codebreaking effort at Bletchley Park - is responsible for intercepting foreign communications and for trying to ensure government communications are not intercepted. Without directly referring to its own work on quantum cryptography, it said the revolution the technology would spark in both areas remains out of reach.

"It is unlikely that any state actor will have been able to put quantum systems into operation by 2015, although some state actors may have basic quantum computing capabilities by 2020," CSOC says.

The NSA is said to be investing heavily in quantum computing.

The predictions in CSOC's report have served as the basis of a series of classified and unclassified meetings with industry and academics hosted by the Office of Cyber Security in recent weeks. Officials plan to feed the results of the meetings into policy, including whether and how the UK should develop offensive capabilities online. ®

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