Foreign spies are targeting officials on social media sites - Here's how

·2-min read
An anonymous person on their laptop in the dark. Credit: Canva
An anonymous person on their laptop in the dark. Credit: Canva

Foreign spies are targeting officials on various social media sites on 'an industrial scale', the head of MI5 has warned.

The Security Service’s director-general, Ken McCallum, has said that more than 10,000 “disguised approaches” have been made by agents seeking to build relationships with their targets.

Fakes profiles are being set up by foreign spies on the likes of LinkedIn and Facebook on an 'industrial scale' as a means of targeting Government officials, high-tech businesses and academics.

These accounts are created to build relationships between the spies and officials as a ruse to get information relating to national security.

News Shopper: A person typing on a laptop. Credit: PA
News Shopper: A person typing on a laptop. Credit: PA

A person typing on a laptop. Credit: PA

Both current and former civil servants are seen as attractive targets because of their experience.

Government launches new app to clamp down on fake social media profiles

To help target the problem, the Government’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure has launched a new app.

The app is aimed at helping to prevent people from being duped by these fake accounts.

Mr McCallum said: “MI5 has seen over 10,000 disguised approaches on professional networking sites from foreign spies to people up and down the UK.

“Foreign spies are actively working to build relationships with those working in Government, in high-tech business and in academia.”

The Think Before You Link app is designed to help those receiving disguised approaches to conduct their own “digital due diligence” checks before accepting unknown contacts online.

The new app will work with the current advice and support that Government staff, particularly those working on sensitive policy, already receive.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Steve Barclay, the minister responsible for cyber security, said: “The online threat via social media is increasing, with fake profiles on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook being created on an industrial scale.

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“Many of these profiles are established as an elaborate ruse for eliciting details from either officials or members of the public who may have access to information relating to our national security.

“It is therefore crucial that we do all we can to protect ourselves and our information, ensuring those who we connect with online are who they say they are. This new app will be an important tool in that endeavour.”

We can see that this online threat is increasing when we look at a LinkedIn report which revealed that 11.6 million fake accounts were stopped at the registration stage in the first six months of 2021.

The networking site has banned fake profiles and also requires its members to be "real people who represent themselves accurately and contribute authentically”.

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