The head of NATO central command was impersonated through a fake Facebook account, it has emerged.
According to a report in The Telegraph, the fake profile for US Navy admiral James Stavridis sent friend requests to "senior British military officers and Ministry of Defence officials", who were fooled and accepted the requests. This would have allowed their own profile data to be seen by whoever set up the fake Stavridis account.
The report on Saturday also suggested that "state-sponsored individuals in China" were likely to have been responsible, and that the episode prompted NATO to advise its senior officers and officials to open proper social networking pages, to avoid impersonation.
However, NATO central command — named Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, or SHAPE — told ZDNet UK on Monday that there was no evidence to point to Chinese spies.
"Six or eight weeks ago, one of these fake accounts popped up," a SHAPE spokesman said. "Of course we became aware and informed the Facebook account manager immediately, and normally they delete these accounts in hours."
The spokesman said spear phishing attacks of this kind were not unusual, and no classified information was held on NATO officials' and officers' Facebook pages anyway. He also denied that NATO had changed its policy as a result of the Stavridis incident.
"We have [for some time] encouraged our leaders to use these social networks such as Facebook — it's nothing new for us," the SHAPE spokesman said. "The [NATO] secretary-general did the same, and it's also for military leaders."