Western intelligence officials have revealed that Chinese agents are actively using LinkedIn to recruit Americans and citizens of other Western allies as spies, the New York Times reports. Chinese agents will typically create fake LinkedIn profiles–even going so far as using AI-generated profile pictures to cover their tracks–and try to connect with high-value targets on Microsoft’s social media platform, including researchers, academics, business executives, and government employees.
Former U.S. and Western government employees are a particularly vulnerable target because many former government employees advertise that they have security clearances, which enhances their recruitment prospects at legitimate employers.
Once a Chinese agent makes a connection with a target on Linkedin they’ll often invite the prospective target to China under the guise of offering them paid speaking or consulting engagements. From there, Chinese agents develop relationships with the target and, eventually, approach them about spying.
So why is China fond of using LinkedIn to recruit foreign spies and not other social media networks? It’s because LinkedIn is the only major American social media network not banned in China. As William R. Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, told the Times: “We’ve seen China’s intelligence services doing this on a mass scale. Instead of dispatching spies to the U.S. to recruit a single target, it’s more efficient to sit behind a computer in China and send out friend requests to thousands of targets using fake profiles.”