Foreign spies target Australians on dating websites, messaging apps, report warns

ASIO AustraliaAUSTRALIAN CITIZENS WITH ACCESS to sensitive information are being targeted for recruitment by foreign spies, who are increasingly using social media platforms, including dating applications, according to a new government report. The report, known as the Annual Threat Assessment, was issued on Wednesday by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which operates as the nation’s counter-terrorism and counterintelligence agency.

Speaking in conjunction with the release of the Annual Threat Assessment, ASIO Director Mike Burgess said on Wednesday that foreign intelligence operatives are carefully cultivating online relationships with Australian citizens, who are believed to have access to sensitive information. These individuals are then targeted with “innocuous approaches” on social media, which can lead to actual recruitment pitches. These techniques have become more elaborate and wider in scope during the COVID-19 pandemic, Burgess said.

According to the Annual Threat Assessment, the ASIO has been detecting systematic “suspicious approaches” on a variety of messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp, which Burgess described as an “easy way for foreign intelligence services to target employees of interest”. However, relationships with carefully targeted Australians are also cultivated through dating platforms, such as Tinder, Hinge and Bumble, according to ASIO.

Other social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, are used to target “current and former high-ranking government officials, academics, members of think-tanks, business executives and members of diaspora communities”, Burgess said. Pitches begin with “seemingly innocuous approaches”, such as offers for well-paid consultancies or even full-time employment. The job offers then progress to “direct messaging” on various encrypted platforms, such as WhatsApp. In some cases, these approaches lead to in-person meetings, “where a recruitment pitch is made”, said Burgess.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 February 2022 | Permalink

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