Governments are earmarking millions of pounds for intelligence services as the internet is making secret missions harder for spies.
Security services across Europe and the US are recruiting more staff to create false back stories for agents.
MI6 in London is taking on 1,000 people – increasing staffing from 2,500 to 3,500 – in a bid to combat the problems.
Intelligence chiefs recognise that almost everyone has an internet presence through business web sites or social media and that developing false identities for agents is becoming harder as anyone with modest technology skills can research someone’s life.
For agents on the ground, facial recognition and reverse search technology can reveal the true identity of someone travelling under false papers.
British intelligence boss Alex Younger said: “The information revolution fundamentally changes our operating environment.
“In five years’ time there will be two sorts of intelligence services – those that understand this fact and have prospered, and those that don’t and haven’t.
“And I’m determined that MI6 will be in the former category.”
Besides the MI6 recruitment drive, close to another thousand new staff will go to MI5, the GCHQ listening station and police counter-terrorism units.
One of the incidents that has sparked the move to take on more spies was the assassination of a Palestinian sympathiser by Israeli intelligence agents working for the security service Mossad.
The agents were quickly exposed as Israelis travelling on false passports after police tracked their names online. Mossad had stolen the identities from European visitors to Israel by cloning their passports.
Changing the way spies work
Security services are also adapting for life without help from technology companies after US whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed how the CIA and British security services trawled online data held by social media companies for intelligence.
“Our opponents who are unconstrained by conditions of lawfulness can use these capabilities to gain increasing visibility of our activities which means that we have to completely change the way that we work,” Younger said.
“The way Snowden’s revelations damaged and undermined the trust that needs to exist is also highly problematic.”
All the new staff will be expected to become operational by 2020. To qualify, applicants must be British and over 21. Salaries range from £32,624 to £38,772.