Deepfake-generated LinkedIn account stokes fears about foreign spies

17 Jun 2019

Various social media app icons on phone. Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

A LinkedIn account that appears to be computer-generated has reignited fears about the use of the platform by foreign spies.

The discovery of a deepfake-generated LinkedIn profile claiming to be ‘Katie Jones’ has sparked concerns about how foreign spies leverage the platform.

Jones, said to be in her early 30s, claimed to work for a policy think tank in Washington DC called the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. She boasted a small yet influential online network. Though she hadn’t been added by much more than 50 people, her connections included pundits from the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation, the deputy assistant secretary of state and more.

Yet an investigation by the Associated Press has determined that Jones doesn’t exist, and that the profile has all the hallmarks of being fraudulent, reigniting fears of how LinkedIn profiles can be used by foreign spies to connect with potential targets and gather information.

Keir Giles, senior consulting fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House, first flagged the Jones profile when ‘she’ reached out to him to make a connection.

His suspicions were further echoed by German artist Mario Klingemann, who deemed that the photo attached to the profile was generated by an AI. Klingemann identified markers, such as striations and smudges on the cheeks as well as a scale-like effect on the upper earlobe, as being typical of images generated by computer programs.

Fears over how spies can use LinkedIn are not new. For years, security agencies such as the UK’s MI5 and Germany’s BfV have warned users, especially those working for government agencies, to be wary of requests coming from people they didn’t actually know. The agencies allege that these profiles, which they say often originate from Russia or China, reach out to people and either attempt to recruit them as informants or dupe them into revealing potentially sensitive information.

LinkedIn has said that it endeavours to shut down fake accounts as soon as they are discovered, and advises against connecting with anyone the users are not personally familiar with.

Various social media app icons on phone. Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic