Balloons are just the tip of a growing global espionage space-race, say risk and intelligence experts

KCS Group Europe warns that cyber and technological threats to national security and business are reaching stratospheric levels, and the problem goes far beyond Beijing’s latest display of “bad altitude”

Leading risk and intelligence firm KCS Group Europe has warned that suspected Chinese spy balloons are only a minor part in a much broader global espionage war which extends beyond Beijing.

The London-based group, which operates around the world providing discreet security and intelligence services to businesses and governments, says the growth of social media, spread of technology and the everyday informational free-for-all of the 21st century has led to the weaponisation of data and fear.

Stuart Poole-Robb, CEO of KCS Group Europe (KCSGE), said: “China is simply attempting to see what works, what it can get away with and what level of pushback there is. But while the Western world deplores China’s latest display of bad altitude, it is as always at ground level where the real threat lies.

“Take the recent news that an Israeli disinformation-for-hire squad, ‘Team Jorge’, has been allegedly used by governments and corporations alike to rig elections, control the narrative and generally manipulate public opinion.

“That’s an operation far more effective, and harder to combat, than sending up a balloon.”

KCSGE points to the fact that threats to key infrastructure and assets are not now confined to bombing raids or suicide attacks, but remote cyber hacks and security compromises which have shifted ‘warfare’ to a low-cost, high-efficacy dynamic.

“Most crucially, with the ability of a foe to strike anywhere, anytime, comes the wave of whispering voices reinforcing the idea that they might. Technology has allowed for fake news and propaganda to be elevated into a full-time, global art form,’ says Poole-Robb.


Similarly, the armed storming of the US Capitol in January 2021 can be traced back to Russia seeding the 2016 presidential campaign with accusations of ‘fake news’. Or China pushing misinformation to reduce the trust in Western vaccines to see swathes of European populations rebel against the idea of science.


KCSGE argues these instances, built around very specific causes, have seen the problems of misinformation and fake news explode to cover any angle of political, economic or social life, with governments facing major challenges convincing their own people that it is not a conspiracy.

Within China, state control of domestic media outlets and the Internet (the ‘Great Firewall’ of China) is well known but, says Poole-Robb, Beijing has made manipulation of foreign thinking both an industry, and an imperative. It is part of China’s self-declared ‘cyber sovereignty’ strategy.

The natural successor to manipulating information is to actively use cybertechnology to disrupt and manipulate on a broader scale, built upon the lessons of finding out just how credulous your target audience is.

Phishing emails to corporate targets chosen for their data, access or connections, who may then be the target of data theft or ransomware, are built on the same ‘strategic distraction’ principle as the social media propaganda wave.


Poole-Robb warns: “The corporate sector is still reticent to acknowledge the scale of this problem – either out of an arrogance that they know their own business best and wouldn’t fall for anything, or the embarrassment that comes with admitting that they are out of their depth when dealing with it.”


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