At the recent Eurosatory Arms Show outside Paris, everyone seemed to be in dark suits and sunglasses. The show attracted all the major and most minor arms manufacturers in the world. It also brings in over 50,000 attendees. If you want a weapon or defense system, the latest hardware, or the means to stop it, this is your place.

Spying at such events has always happened. For the most part, it consists of taking pictures, some openly, asking “innocent” questions, or looking over the shoulder of a competitor as he makes a pitch. The risks at the arms show also range from petty theft to covert photography and electronic eavesdropping. Behind those suits and dark glasses there is an atmosphere of mutual distrust.

“Everyone is told to keep their eyes and ears open, watch that equipment doesn’t disappear. If people take photographs, we need to know who they are,” said a French Defense executive.

Today, however, the threat has expanded. Cyber spying is alive and well at this very lucrative target environment.

“It is very easy to go crawling over everybody’s systems here. Some people come and their approach is to grab everything they can,” said a senior Western Defense company official.

Given that many of the exhibitors now do much of their advertising digitally, they are vulnerable to either losing the content or having it corrupted by competitors. Events like this can be gold mines for cyber access that otherwise might require more sophisticated hacking skills. Throw in wireless networks, and there is a huge “harvest” all around.

Interestingly, defense companies are investing heavily in systems to fight the growing threat of cyber attacks on corporations, utilities, financial services companies and government computers. It should be a cautionary tale that many of those marketing their skills, methodologies and products for cyber security are often hit very hard at events like the Paris show. It is always a wise thing for a potential client to investigate how a company peddling security protects itself and its crown jewels.

Again, spying at arms shows is not really news, but much like espionage in general, cyber techniques have proven to be a boon to the hunters and a headache to those playing defense. It takes wisdom, good practices and constant vigilance to protect IP and other valuable data.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More