What kind of a LinkedIn user are you? The kind who only accepts “connect” requests from people you know? Or a blanket accepter who connects to everyone who asks?
Unluckily for the American public, there are plenty of members of the U.S. government and political intelligentsia who fall into the latter camp! Which makes LinkedIn a prime hunting ground for… foreign spies?!
According to a new report from the Associated Press, foreign intelligence operations routinely use LinkedIn to target, connect with, and eventually gain knowledge about and influence over American political affairs.
These operations create fake LinkedIn profiles, boasting impressive (imaginary) credentials alongside computer-generated photos, that send connection requests to politicians, lobbyists, academics, or think tank employees. Once one person accepts, that bolsters the fake account’s credibility, so other high-profile LinkedIn users accept, too, and so it goes.
These profiles send out tens of thousands of connection requests at a time. And, apparently, there have been multiple independent cases of American figures being targeted by Russian or Chinese spy operations via connections they unwittingly accepted on LinkedIn.
The AP spoke with multiple D.C. figures, including a former Trump administration official, who had accepted a connection request from political expert “Katie Jones.” None of Jones’ credentials checked out, and experts determined that her photo was generated by A.I., so Jones, by all accounts, does not exist. But the person running the account still had the ability to direct message with political influencers, posing as a colleague.
LinkedIn told the AP that it removes fake accounts; indeed, it removed Jones’ account shortly after the AP inquired about Katie Jones. But as multiple other social networks have demonstrated, a reactionary stance in the fight against fake activity online is an insufficient one.
And in the case of LinkedIn as a breeding ground for espionage, that’s not enough.