German intelligence claims China is using LinkedIn for espionage
Germany’s intelligence agency (BfV) alleges that China is using fake LinkedIn profiles to gather information on German politicians and officials.
BfV domestic services conducted a nine-month investigation, as reported by Reuters, and found that more than 10,000 German citizens had been contacted by fake LinkedIn accounts masquerading as head-hunters and consultants.
The head of the agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, claims this shows an effort by China to interfere with German politics. He told the BBC that it is a “road-based attempt to infiltrate in particular parliaments, ministries and government agencies”.
To reinforce its claims, BfV published the names of eight of the most active accounts, including an alleged resources manager at an economic consultancy called “Allen Liu”, and a think tank member, “Lily Wu”. Both are falsified, and designed to attract government officials. Reports claim the profile picture for “Laeticia Chen”, a manager at the “China Center of International Politics and Economy”, for example, was stolen from an online fashion catalogue.
These fake accounts could be the tip of a bigger iceberg, the BfV warned. A spokesperson reportedly said: “There could be a large number of target individuals and fake profiles that have not yet been identified”.
While the profiles show connections with diplomats and officials – not only from Germany, Reuters notes – we can’t tell whether any interaction has gone on beyond these fake profiles being added to professional networks. BfV is worried that Chinese intelligence is pressing its cyber-espionage efforts to recruit Western informants.
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All of this is reminiscent of claims that state-sponsored Russian hackers have been targeting social media as a means to influence foreign elections. The Kremlin isn’t alone in these efforts. A recent report from independent watchdog Freedom House claims that as many as 30 governments used social media to spread discord and influence elections over the past year.