GCHQ’s director general Jeremy Fleming issued the warning during a speech at the Imperial College Vincent Briscoe annual security lecture. He said: “We are now facing a moment of reckoning.
“In the natural world, during a period of rapid change, the only option is to adapt. And it’s the same for us.”
Mr Fleming feared the cyber threats could control a whole “global operating system”.
The British spy chief insisted that new innovations could be used to control individuals in future smart cities – which collect large amounts of data.
He said: “Previously, I and others have pointed out that in terms of our national security, Russia is affecting the weather, whilst China is shaping the climate.
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The British spy chief said although the UK is currently a “big animal in the digital world” it cannot assume this will continue.
Britain must constantly reinvent in order to face the cyber challenges ahead, he explained.
Mr Fleming added: “Smart cities are a case in point. They provide great promise to make urban areas more efficient and less polluting through the use of data.
“They should help you navigate life, not track your movements.
“But unchecked, or implemented in the wrong way, there’s a risk that we will import technology which hardwires data collection in ways that go against the interests and values of open, democratic societies.”