Information operations · Information Warfare

Espionage and LinkedIn: How Not to Be Recruited As a Spy

  • Intelligence agencies have always used open source intelligence to spot people with access to the programs or information they are attempting to collect. 
  • The internet provides such agencies with more open source information than ever; some sites, such as LinkedIn, are particularly useful for spotting people with access to desired information or technologies. 
  • By understanding how intelligence agencies use LinkedIn and other social media platforms, one can take steps to avoid or mitigate the threat.

The risk that hostile intelligence services will use LinkedIn as a recruitment tool has been widely reported. One such report, by Mika Aaltola at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs published in June 2019, focused on Chinese activity on LinkedIn. The phenomenon, however, is neither confined to Chinese intelligence operations nor limited to that particular social media platform. All intelligence agencies use similar exploits, as illustrated by the Iranian-linked hack of Deloitte in which a LinkedIn connection was used to gain an employee’s trust. Even so, the number of reported cases attributed to the Chinese — including those of former intelligence officers such as Kevin Mallory and corporate espionage cases such as one involving an engineer at GE Aviation — suggest their intelligence services are among the most active and aggressive users of LinkedIn as a recruitment tool.

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One thought on “Espionage and LinkedIn: How Not to Be Recruited As a Spy

  1. Similar: LinkedIn is being used by a group of people from France who openly recruit mercenaries to fight with the pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas. They recruit for the ¨”Piatnashka International Brigade”. They are of course anti NATO, anti EU and since they are French, anti Macron, whom they brand as a traitor. The first phase of the recruitment is through LI and the second one through the Russian social medium Vkontakt. The head of Safety & Trust at LinkedIn was warned about three weeks ago by a number of LI members. Only answer et this stage: “We’ll look into it.” Actually a number of those who wrote to protest received no answer whatsoever. We gave evidence in the form of incriminating screenshots from LI and Vkontakt. Recruiting mercenaries is a violation of LI’s user agreement, of US law and (since the people are French) French law.

    It does seem that the French authorities have started cracking down on one of the main recruiting centers which happens to be where I live now, Annecy, near the Swiss border, but the center which is operated by among other GRU officers has not closed down yet. It takes the form of a NGO, Vostok France Solidarité Donbass. French mercenaries (or mercenaries recruited in France) can bee seen in photos posted on the Internet, with their AK47s, a French flag and the NGO’s symbol, Over three years ago, I wrote a long post on the center which was suppressed 12 times by LI without any explanation. I eventually replaced it with an article published on the Ukrainian website InformNapalm.

    There is an old Newsweek article by Jeff Stein which is till worth viewing by those who haven’t done so yet. It is titled “How Russia Is Using LinkedIn as a Tool of War Against Its U.S. Enemies”, and is here:

    For espionage the GRU is apparently not using those guys.

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