The head of MI5 revealed that thousands of UK citizens have been contacted by Chinese agents posing as recruiters, in a campaign to steal trade secrets and compromise businesses in the country.
According to Ken McCallum, the head of MI5, China is contacting experts from the UK and trying to steal critical business information, particularly in fields like artificial intelligence, quantum computing or synthetic biology.
According to him, the industrial espionage attempts from China using the networking platform LinkedIn has reached an estimated 20,000 UK citizens, with at least 10,000 businesses being put at risk.
“Week by week, our teams detect massive amounts of covert activity by the likes of China in particular, but also Russia and Iran. Activity not aimed just at government or military secrets. Not even just aimed at our critical infrastructure but increasingly [at] promising startups — innovative companies spun out of our universities, academic research itself, and people that understandably may not think national security is about them,” he said.
McCallum’s statements come a week before a scheduled Five Eyes summit hosted by the FBI in California.
Last month, a report in the Times came out with the story of Robin Zhang, a Chinese secret agent accused of trying to convince thousands of professionals on LinkedIn to hand over company details in exchange for cash and contracts.
From the BBC coverage of the incident:
“During that time it is claimed he offered British and other officials business opportunities, with an endgame of gaining sensitive information from them.
He is also said to have offered a recruitment consultant up to £8,000 each time they handed over details of someone who worked for the intelligence services.
Some of the targets were said to have been offered trips to China and paid speaking engagements.
Others were asked to provide reports, which the alleged spy would then use to request more confidential documents with the aim of entrapment.”