New tool to protect businesses and public from spy threats

A new app has been launched which allows users of social media and professional networking sites to better identify the hallmarks of fake profiles used by foreign spies and other malicious actors.

It is estimated that over 10,000 UK nationals from across society have been targeted on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook over the past year. The use of fake profiles on social media and professional networking sites is a particular concern – in the first half of last year alone, LinkedIn stopped 11.6m fake accounts at registration.

The new app is part of the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure’s (CPNI) ‘Think Before You Link’ campaign. It has been developed with behavioural scientists to include features such as a profile reviewer, which will help individuals identify potentially fake profiles and report anything they deem suspicious.

The launch of the app comes as the UK government warns of increased espionage by state actors and its threat to the UK. Steve Barclay, lead minister 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. 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.”

Research by the University of Portsmouth suggests that around 16.8m LinkedIn users in the UK may have accepted unknown contacts and that awareness of the potential threat from state actors using fake profiles is lower than other potential online threats. When asked specifically about fake profiles and the motives of perpetrators more generally, users of LinkedIn and Facebook were most likely to think of trolling (80%), fraud (80%) and fake news (79%), rather than economic espionage (64%).

Ken McCallum, Director General of MI5, 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 helps those who may be receiving disguised approaches, helping them to conduct their own digital due diligence before accepting unknown contacts online.”

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