China spying on German politicians and officials using fake LinkedIn profiles

The German intelligence agency has unearthed multiple fake LinkedIn profiles that it says are being used by China to gather information on politicians and other officials.

The German intelligence agency believes there could be hundreds of fake LinkedIn profiles that are yet to be identified and are used by China to interfere in German politics.

Earlier this year, German intelligence agency BfV revealed how state-sponsored Russian hackers were conducting a spate of cyber-attacks on political parties to influence the outcome of the September elections. The most significant of these cyber-attacks was one conducted on the Bundestag in May 2015 which resulted in loss of large amounts of data, followed by several attacks on websites owned by Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.

'We recognize this as a campaign being directed from Russia. Our counterpart is trying to generate information that can be used for disinformation or for influencing operations. Whether they do it or not is a political decision ... that I assume will be made in the Kremlin,' said Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the BfV.

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The agency now says that Russia isn't the only country that is nurturing an unhealthy interest towards German politics. It has unearthed multiple fake LinkedIn profiles that are being run by China to gather information on German politicians and officials.

'Chinese intelligence services are active on networks like LinkedIn and have been trying for a while to extract information and find intelligence sources in this way, including seeking data on users’ habits, hobbies and political interests. There could be a large number of target individuals and fake profiles that have not yet been identified,' the Bfv said.

The agency released details of several LinkedIn profiles which it said were fake and were used by Chinese intelligence services to contact politicians and government officials. These profiles were under names like Laeticia Chen, Rachel Li, Allen Liu, Lily Wu and Alex Li who were supposedly working at political and economic research institutions in China. Information gathered using these fake profiles are being used to recruit officials and politicians as informants.

Responding to the revelation, China has termed the accusations as baseless and that they are not beneficial to the development of bilateral relations.

'We hope the relevant German organizations, particularly government departments, can speak and act more responsibly, and not do things that are not beneficial to the development of bilateral relations,' said Lu Kang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

With the German intelligence agency destroying the virtual anonymity used by Russian and Chinese hackers to spy on or to influence German politics, it remains to be seen if foreign intelligence agencies or state-sponsored hacker groups will change their tact and use new methods to interfere in German affairs in the coming days.