Weaponizing social media for intelligence gathering

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has warned public officials on the risks of exposure while using social media. A wake up call.

In a turn of events which underscores how social media is being increasingly weaponized by countries such as Russia and China, Germany’s intelligence service has published details of social network profiles which, it says, are fronts for Chinese intelligence to gather personal information from German officials.

The unusual step of unmasking and naming the individual profiles was taken by Germany’s domestic intelligence service, the BfV, to warn officials on the risk of leaking sensitive personal information through social media.

“Chinese intelligence services are active on networks like LinkedIn and have been trying for a while to extract information and find intelligence sources in this way,” said BfV. The data Chinese intelligence is looking for includes political interests, habits and hobbies.

After a painstaking 9 months of research, the BfV found out that more than 10,000 German citizens had been contacted on Microsoft’s LinkedIn network by Chinese intelligence officers with fake profiles disguised as scholars, headhunters, think-tankers and consultants, said the BfV.

“There could be a large number of target individuals and fake profiles that have not yet been identified,” they added.

On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, said the accusations were baseless.

“We hope the relevant German organizations, particularly government departments, can speak and act more responsibly, and not do things that are not beneficial to the development of bilateral relations,” said Lu.

Among the faked profiles whose details were published were that of “Rachel Li”, identified as a “headhunter” at “RiseHR”, and an “Alex Li”, a “Project Manager at Center for Sino-Europe Development Studies”.

A review of the profiles reveal that some were connected to senior diplomats and politicians from several European countries.

The warning by Germany’s BfV comes at a time when there is growing concern among European and western intelligence circles at covert Chinese activities in their countries; it follows warnings from the CIA that attempts are being made to recruit U.S. citizens as Chinese agents.

The BfV has invited concerned users to contact them if they encountered social media profiles that appear to be suspect.

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