MI5 campaign warns of online recruitment drive by foreign spies

The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) – a branch of MI5 – has launched a campaign to warn of attempts by foreign spies to recruit Britons online.

A still from the CPNI 'Think before you link' campaign film
A still from the CPNI 'Think before you link' campaign film

The 'Think before you link' campaign has been prompted by concerns over the scale at which people are being targeted by foreign intelligence agencies.

More than 10,000 Britons have been singled out by foreign spies on professional networking sites over the past five years, according to MI5.

Spies from Russia, China and other countries are creating fake profiles in an attempt to steal state secrets from people who accept their requests to connect.

Civil servants and people working for defence contractors are among those being targeted.

The CPNI campaign, which is primarily aimed at civil servants and other officials, urges people to report suspicious profiles and remove them from their networks.

People who work for the government or Civil Service are being targeted, along with those who work in the “private sector or academia with access to classified or commercially sensitive technology or research”, according to the CPNI.

It warned: “Criminals and hostile actors may act anonymously or dishonestly online in an attempt to connect with people who have access to valuable and sensitive information. They often do this by posing as recruiters or talent agents who will approach individuals with enticing opportunities, when their real intent is to gather as much information as possible from the target.”

The new video depicts an official being approached online to be a keynote speaker at a “prestigious conference” where they will be paid an “attractive fee” and have all expenses paid. Shadowy figures are shown gripping onto the official and their colleagues.

The voiceover warns: “Connecting with profiles you don't know can have unforeseen and damaging consequences.” It adds: “This can happen to anyone. The threat is real.”

The campaign has been featured by media outlets ranging from the BBC to the Daily Mail and Financial Times.

In a statement issued to support the campaign, Ken McAllum, director-general of MI5, warned: “Malicious profiles on professional networking sites are being utilised on an industrial scale.”

Dominic Fortescue, the Government’s chief security officer, commented that civil servants working from home and on personal devices were “more vulnerable to malicious approaches from hostile security services and criminal organisations on social media”.

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