UK public at risk from hostile state threats

The head of MI5 is giving a speech at the service’s Thames House headquarters in which he is expected to urge the public to be as vigilant about threats from hostile states as from terrorism.

Ken McCallum will say that the ‘less visible threats’, such as cyber attacks, misinformation, espionage and interference in politics, have the potential to affect us all.

McCallum wants to challenge the idea that activity by so-called hostile states, usually taken to mean primarily Russia and China, only affects governments or certain institutions, whilst also warning that the growing threat is just as dangerous as that of terrorism.

Terrorism has dominated MI5's agenda for the last two decades. That danger has not gone away but MI5 is now also dealing with a broader range of threats as well.

The warning comes amid growing fears that cyber attacks by states, or by criminal groups sheltered by states such as Russia, could take down critical infrastructure like water or power or healthcare leading to a loss of life. In 2017, a cyber-attack linked to North Korea took down parts of the NHS, affecting appointments, whilst an attack linked to criminals in Russia earlier this year took down a pipeline supplying half the fuel to America's East Coast.

Ken McCallum will say: "We have seen over 10,000 disguised approaches from foreign spies to regular people in the UK, seeking to manipulate them.

"UK victims of state espionage range way wider than just government. 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.”


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