MI5 chief warns public of growing cyber espionage threat

More than 10,000 people have been targeted by foreign spies in the last five years, according to the agency

The head of the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, MI5, will today deliver a warning to the general public about the threats posed by cyber espionage.

Ken McCallum, who last year succeeded Sir Andrew Parker as Director General, will emphasise the importance of vigilance among regular people in the UK, who are being increasingly approached by foreign intelligence agencies

The MI5 has recorded more than 10,000 cyber espionage incidents in the last five years, with many taking place on networking social media platform LinkedIn.

McCallum is expected to say that “UK victims of state espionage range way wider than just government”, in a speech scheduled for today at MI5’s Thames House headquarters.

“We see the UK’s brilliant universities and researchers having their discoveries stolen or copied; we see businesses hollowed out by the loss of advantage they’ve worked painstakingly to build. Given half a chance, hostile actors will short-circuit years of patient British research or investment. This is happening at scale. And it affects us all. UK jobs, UK public services, UK futures,” he will say.

McCallum will also urge businesses engaged in export, scientific research, and the high-tech sector to be aware of the potential risks of falling victim to cyber espionage. These could include "frustration and inconvenience”, but also “loss of livelihood, potentially up to loss of life".

However, McCallum is to add that these companies “don’t have to be scared; but be switched on”.

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McCallum will also appeal for action across the government as well as the general public: "We must, over time, build the same public awareness and resilience to state threats that we have done over the years on terrorism," he will say.

The warning comes three months after the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) launched the Think Before You Link campaign, which aims to increase awareness of foreign agents targeting officials with access to sensitive information.

The project shares concerns that once a request has been accepted, the victim's colleagues will be more likely to accept a follow-up request as it looks like they share a mutual acquaintance. Nearly all government departments and some key industries are thought to have been targeted by fake LinkedIn accounts.

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