French civil servants targeted by Chinese cyber spies, leak reveals

By on 31/10/2018 | Updated on 04/02/2022
Who’s making contact? Civil servants have been warned not to accept LinkedIn requests from people they don’t know (Image courtesy: rawpixel via Unsplash)

A leaked French intelligence services report has revealed that thousands of the country’s civil servants have been targeted by Chinese spies using fake LinkedIn profiles.

Following the leak to leading French newspaper Le Figaro, the UK’s Telegraph reported that in recent months Chinese spies have pretended to be headhunters, consultants or think tank employees seeking to connect with nearly 4000 French civil servants and business executives on the professional social networking site.

Of those approached, 48% were business executives and 52% state employees across a range of sectors including defence, health and computing.

False friends

Once a LinkedIn invitation was accepted, the targeted individuals were offered free luxury trips to China for seminars and conferences or well-paid consultancy work. They were then encouraged to communicate away from the social networking site via encrypted messages, the leaked report said.

According to Le Figaro reports cited in the Telegraph, “hundreds” of people were duped – with one civil servant accepting payments for confidential information, and another agreeing to a free diving holiday in South-East Asia.

Following these revelations, French intelligence services are making a concerted effort to train civil servants on how to spot suspicious activity online and have issued guidelines on what to do in such a scenario. French state employees are being advised to refuse all requests on social media from people they do not know personally.

Halloween spooks

France is not the first country to have its civil service targeted by Chinese spies.

In 2015, the UK security services flagged up cyber espionage activities on LinkedIn. And within the last year, both the German and US governments have accused China of using the social network to gather classified information and recruit foreign agents.

In 2017 10,000 German individuals, including state employees and politicians, were reportedly targeted by fake LinkedIn profiles originating in China. In response the German authorities published the names of all the fake usernames and companies they had uncovered.

And in August this year, the U.S. also warned of a “super aggressive” Chinese campaign targeting its citizens with access to confidential state and commercial information.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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