Professional networking sites are a paradise for “foreign spies”

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Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn have become a haven for malicious state actors, Britain’s security services have warned.

New research suggests that foreign spies are creating fake “industry-scale” accounts to target government officials and corporations.

Vincent Devine, the government security chief, said social media sites are now a key tool for spies seeking to access sensitive information.

“Hostile actors can easily use social media to conduct online research into an individual’s interests, activities, and personal and professional relationships,” he said. “They can then use this information to target the individual online.”

LinkedIn data shows that more than 11.6 million fake accounts were blocked in the first half of 2021 alone, highlighting a growing security risk for users of the platform.

Research from the University of Portsmouth also reveals that around 16.8 million LinkedIn users across the UK may have accepted unknown contacts.


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The use of professional networking sites by malicious state actors has become so widespread that UK security services have issued warnings to civil servants, government employees and people working in high-tech industries and universities.

According to MI5 Director General Ken McCallum, the security service has observed more than 10,000 “disguised approaches” on the social networking sites of foreign spies.

Current and former civil servants are particularly attractive targets because of their experience and positions in government, MI5 has warned.

In response, a new application has been developed to allow users to control potential spies. The “Think Before You Link” app allows users to conduct their own “digital due diligence” and aims to raise awareness of the growing threat of digital espionage.

Created by the Center for National Infrastructure Protection (CPNI), the new app was developed with input from behavioral scientists and includes features such as a profile reviewer that helps users report suspicious profiles or activity.

“Foreign spies actively work to build relationships with those in government, high-tech companies and academia,” McCallum said.

“The Think Before You Link app helps those who may receive disguised approaches, helping them conduct their own digital due diligence before accepting unknown contacts online.”


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