A recent proliferation of phony executive profiles on LinkedIn is creating something of an identity crisis for the business networking site, and for companies that rely on it to hire and screen prospective employees. The fabricated LinkedIn identities — which pair AI-generated profile photos with text lifted from legitimate accounts — are creating major headaches for corporate HR departments and for those managing invite-only LinkedIn groups.
Last week, KrebsOnSecurity examined a flood of inauthentic LinkedIn profiles all claiming Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) roles at various Fortune 500 companies, including Biogen, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Hewlett Packard.
Since then, the response from LinkedIn users and readers has made clear that these phony profiles are showing up en masse for virtually all executive roles — but particularly for jobs and industries that are adjacent to recent global events and news trends.
Hamish Taylor runs the Sustainability Professionals group on LinkedIn, which has more than 300,000 members. Together with the group’s co-owner, Taylor said they’ve blocked more than 12,700 suspected fake profiles so far this year, including dozens of recent accounts that Taylor describes as “cynical attempts to exploit Humanitarian Relief and Crisis Relief experts.”
“We receive over 500 fake profile requests to join on a weekly basis,” Taylor said. “It’s hit like hell since about January of this year. Prior to that we did not get the swarms of fakes that we now experience.”
Taylor recently posted an entry on LinkedIn titled, “The Fake ID Crisis on LinkedIn,” which lampooned the “60 Least Wanted ‘Crisis Relief Experts’ — fake profiles that claimed to be experts in disaster recovery efforts in the wake of recent hurricanes. The images above and below show just one such swarm of profiles the group flagged as inauthentic. Virtually all of these profiles were removed from LinkedIn after KrebsOnSecurity tweeted about them last week.
Mark Miller is the owner of the DevOps group on LinkedIn, and says he deals with fake profiles on a daily basis — often hundreds per day. What Taylor called “swarms” of fake accounts Miller described instead as “waves” of incoming requests from phony accounts.
“When a bot tries to infiltrate the group, it does so in waves,” Miller said. “We’ll see 20-30 requests come in with the same type of information in the profiles.”
After screenshotting the waves of suspected fake profile requests, Miller started sending the images to LinkedIn’s abuse teams, which told him they would review his request but that he may never be notified of any action taken.
Miller said that after months of complaining and sharing fake profile information with LinkedIn, the social media network appeared to do something which caused the volume of group membership requests from phony accounts to drop precipitously.
“I wrote our LinkedIn rep and said we were considering closing the group down the bots were so bad,” Miller said. “I said, ‘You guys should be doing something on the backend to block this.”
Jason Lathrop is vice president of technology and operations at ISOutsource, a Seattle-based consulting firm with roughly 100 employees. Like Miller, Lathrop’s experience in fighting bot profiles on LinkedIn suggests the social networking giant will eventually respond to complaints about inauthentic accounts. That is, if affected users complain loudly enough (posting about it publicly on LinkedIn seems to help).
Lathrop said that about two months ago his employer noticed waves of new followers, and identified more than 3,000 followers that all shared various elements, such as profile photos or text descriptions.
“Then I noticed that they all claim to work for us at some random title within the organization,” Lathrop said in an interview with KrebsOnSecurity. “When we complained to LinkedIn, they’d tell us these profiles didn’t violate their community guidelines. But like heck they don’t! These people don’t exist, and they’re claiming they work for us!”
Lathrop said that after his company’s third complaint, a LinkedIn representative responded by asking ISOutsource to send a spreadsheet listing every legitimate employee in the company, and their corresponding profile links.
Not long after that, the phony profiles that were not on the company’s list were deleted from LinkedIn. Lathrop said he’s still not sure how they’re going to handle getting new employees allowed into their company on LinkedIn going forward. Continue reading