Foreign spies have tried to dupe Brits into giving away secrets more than 10,000 times in recent years, MI5 has revealed.
Security Service (MI5) Director-General Ken McCallum says British intelligence clocked at least 10,000 disguised approaches by foreign spies seeking to manipulate ordinary people in Britain.
It comes as foreign spies are seeking to pilfer technology, sow discord, and attack infrastructure in the UK, the country's top domestic spymaster has warned.
Brits have been told to treat the threat of spying from Russia and China as vigilantly as terrorism.
The growing assertiveness of Russia and China has turned some attention of the West's most powerful spymasters back to old-fashioned counterintelligence, or spies tracking other spies a constant cat-and-mouse game.
The consequences of spying by foreign powers can range "from frustration and inconvenience, through loss of livelihood, potentially up to loss of life," McCallum will say in a speech at MI5 headquarters Thames House.
"We must, over time, build the same public awareness and resilience to state threats that we have done over the years on terrorism," he said in excerpts of his speech released by MI5.
British spies say China and Russia have independently sought to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property as well as to interfere in politics and sow misinformation.
Beijing and Moscow say the West is gripped with a paranoia about plots. Both Russia and Chine deny they meddle abroad, seek to steal technology, carry out cyberattacks or sow discord.
McCallum, a career spy, said the whole country should be alert to the threat of foreign spying.
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"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," he said.
"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."
MI5 began as a counter-intelligence service in 1909, first focusing on the threat from Germany and then, after World War Two, focusing on the Cold War threat posed by the Soviet Union's agents.
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