A mobile phone app has been launched that will help social media users to detect fake profiles and speed up their removal.
The Think Before You Link app will help people to spot characteristics of fraudulent profiles used by spies and other malicious actors, according to the Cabinet Office and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure.
Last year MI5 warned that at least 10,000 people in the UK had been approached by spies posing behind fake profiles on LinkedIn with the intention of obtaining and sharing secret information in the last five years.
The government has said that more than 10,000 people in the UK had been targeted on LinkedIn and Facebook in the last year.
The director general of MI5, Ken McCallum, said malicious profiles were being used on an “industrial scale”.
Current and former civil servants are often attractive targets because of their experience, and can be sent fake offers of consultancy work if they connect with unknown users.
Research by the University of Portsmouth has indicated that the threat of “economic espionage” is often forgotten by users, who are more aware of the chances of trolling and fraud – but 75% of people say they have received requests from profiles they find suspicious.
The app has been developed in cooperation with behavioural scientists, and includes features such as a profile reviewer, which will help users identify fake profiles and report anything suspicious.
McCallum said: “MI5 has seen over 10,000 disguised approaches on professional networking sites from foreign spies to people up and down the UK. Foreign spies are actively working to build relationships with those working in government, in high-tech business and in academia.”
Steve Barclay, the lead government minister for cyber security, said: “The online threat via social media is increasing, with fake profiles on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook being created on an industrial scale.
“Many of these profiles are established as an elaborate ruse for eliciting details from either officials or members of the public who may have access to information relating to our national security.
“It is therefore crucial that we do all we can to protect ourselves and our information, ensuring those who we connect with online are who they say they are. This new app will be an important tool in that endeavour.”