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Case Studies

Think before you link app

A ‘Think before you link‘ app has been launched. It’s for users of social media and professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, to better identify the hallmarks of fake profiles – used by foreign spies and other malicious actors.

As featured in Professional Security in the June 2021 print edition of Professional Security magazine, the authorities estimate that thousands of UK nationals, across business sectors and society, have been targeted in such ways online. The use of fake profiles on social media and professional networking sites is occurring at scale.

In the first half of last year alone LinkedIn stopped 11.6m fake accounts at registration. Estimates based on University of Portsmouth research findings suggest that around 16.8m LinkedIn users may have accepted unknown contacts, with 1.6m of them working in industries classified as sensitive.

The research was carried out by Prof Mark Button and Dr David Shepherd of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Portsmouth. It involved a survey of 1,000 UK professionals who use either LinkedIn or Facebook for professional networking. The survey data was collected in April.

The app is part of the UK official Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure’s (CPNI) ‘Think Before You Link’ campaign. It has been developed with behavioural scientists to include features such as a profile reviewer, which will help you identify potentially fake profiles and report anything they deem suspicious.

For example, current and former civil servants can be targets because of their experience; and if their positions are listed on sites such as LinkedIn, this can bring the risk of fake offers of consultancy work – and other lucrative suggestions – if they connect with unknown users. Hence the app as digital due diligence.

The Portsmouth research suggests that many social media and professional networking site users are unaware of potential risks; 51 per cent of users automatically accept link requests, whilst 45 per cent believe that the targeting of individuals is a rare occurrence.

Vincent Devine, UK Government Chief Security Officer said: “Hostile actors can easily use social media to conduct online research into an individual’s interests, activities and personal and professional connections. They can then use that information to target the individual online. The Think Before You Link app is an effective way for government staff and the public to protect themselves against those threats.”


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