ASIO discloses LinkedIn foreign intelligence threat

It also warned that the telecommunications sector is an 'attractive target' for foreign interference.

The Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) tabled its annual report to Parliament Wednesday afternoon, providing an overview of its security performance and Australia's security environment and outlook.

In the report [PDF], ASIO disclosed it had issued advice to stakeholders across "government, business, and industry" about social media platforms being used to recruit people into hostile intelligence services. 

Specifically, the intelligence agency provided advice describing how LinkedIn and other social media platforms were being used to target people in positions for foreign intelligence purposes.

By revealing the threat of foreign interference arising from social media platforms, ASIO warned that organisations should be wary of their "outreach activities" and engagements with government, defence industry, and research institutions.

"In a small number of organisations, security teams were considering making policy changes in response to receiving our advice; for example, to limit or restrict social media access on their corporate networks," ASIO's report said.

The advice also generated some new intelligence back to ASIO by prompting clearance holders to report social media approaches, based on our advice of how hostile intelligence actors craft social media approaches.

The report did not clarify however, the amount of access that ASIO used to reach its findings about the activity conducted on LinkedIn.

See also: Mike Burgess named as new ASIO Director-General of Security

In December last year, Parliament passed the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2018 which gave certain agencies the power to access communications and data through a range of measures, including enhanced obligations for industry to assist agencies in prescribed circumstances. 

Australia's encryption laws created three kinds of notices that a so-called "interception agency" could serve on what are called "designated communications providers".

The Department of Home Affairs revealed at the start of this year that law enforcement and national security agencies have already begun using the powers as the department continues to "support" its implementation.

The intelligence agency also labelled the telecommunications sector as something that was of specific concern within the report, saying the sector is "an attractive target" for foreign interference. 

According to ASIO, the telecommunications sector underpins the nation's critical infrastructure and provides opportunities for "adversaries to conduct activities that pose a persistent threat to national security", and that it would look to the new encryption-busting powers to combat against these threats in the future.

In the past year, ASIO said it provided analysis and briefings on matters such as risks arising from the aggregation of ownership in critical infrastructure, threats to the telecommunications sector, and the circumvention of foreign investment scrutiny processes. 

ASIO previously provided advice that supported the banning of Huawei equipment for the rollout of Australia's NBN. 

Last month, ASIO's outgoing Director-General of Security Duncan Lewis said the risks of counter-espionage and foreign interference was on a "growth path".  

"The issue of espionage and foreign interference is by far and away the most serious issue going forward," said Lewis.

"Communities and countries are able to interfere in one another's business now because you can, there are conduits through all of those technological advances of globalisation, the internet, instant communications, and all those things we're familiar with, now social media that will enable influence to be exerted remotely."