Updated: Nov 14, 2019
Beijing is suspected of using social networks to recruit Western spies. Awareness of the problem is developing in the United States and Europe, with particular attention to the professional platform LinkedIn. It embodies the Chinese concept of guanxi (building connections and networks), as well as being the only social network not banned in China.
Fake profiles, often with photographs of beautiful women, would hide Chinese agents ready to potentially steal information, but above all, to physically approach their contacts. Jonas Parello-Plesner, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, recently spoke about China’s new American interest. In particular, he recounted his experience with a LinkedIn contact, a Chinese woman who pretended to represent a recruiting company, DRHR.
The goal of his connection was to research Chinese companies, but during their face-to-face meeting, Chinese intelligence officials also arrived. In essence, the researcher underwent a recruitment attempt (mainly for the purpose of obtaining information and skill sets) that appealed to both his career as well as the importance of avoiding conflicts between the United States and China. After meeting, He was offered a substantial research funding in exchange for collaboration. He refused.
Recently, the social network canceled DRHR’s access and other Chinese recruiting profiles following the report of suspicious activity by Western intelligence agencies. The implications for the American and European national security are immeasurable. The case of the former CIA agent Kevin Mallory, who fell into a trap with Chinese spies on LinkedIn, has not yet been an effective deterrent for businessmen, scholars and consultants who collaborate with China. They remain unaware of the pervasiveness of Beijing's intelligence. Hence the need to act.
The U.S. and Europe are beginning to take the problem more seriously as recent events – including the latest being spy chips and possible interference with the upcoming midterm elections – have pushed the White House and Vice President Mike Pence to publicly denounce China’s online aggression.
The dispute between China and the U.S. is not just economic and commercial. More generally, Beijing's activity in cyber space (perhaps more so than Moscow) is receiving greater attention by Washington, which considers China a strong competitor in the technological field (especially in security) as shown by the tensions with the giant tech firms Huawei and ZTE (who were found guilty of installing invisible applications to record American’s phone conversations). These concerns are only compounded by China’s rapid development in the artificial intelligence field.
According the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S Intelligence Community study in February 2018, China’s Communist People's Republic will continue to use cyber espionage and strengthen its capacity to conduct cyber attacks in support of national security priorities (albeit to a lesser extent than before the bilateral agreements signed in 2015). Most Chinese cybernetic operations discovered against U.S. industries focus on defense, IT and communication companies.
It is no coincidence that the subject of this study is also highlighted in a specific annual Pentagon report to Congress, which focuses on the progress and dangers of Beijing's information technology operations in the military. These reports are being used by the U.S to confront the problem and develop proper measures against future attacks.
PH: South China Morning Post