The imaginary Jones had LinkedIn connections to a number of American officials or political influencers, including economist Paul Winfree (considered for a Federal Reserve seat), a deputy assistant secretary of state and a senator’s senior aide. She also had links to think tank activists at the Brookings Institution and Heritage Foundation.
There are no immediate indications that the people behind Jones have successfully compromised political targets, and it’s not clear just who’s behind the campaign. Jones’ account disappeared soon after the AP asked LinkedIn for comment, with the site saying that it regularly cracked down on fake accounts. China is known to use LinkedIn to recruit spies, however, and establishing political connections both expands the list of potential targets and gives credibility to any attempts to elicit data.
The discovery is a reminder that you can’t trust a social network profile simply because it has a unique-looking photo. At the same time, though, it’s also an indication that sites may need to step up their efforts to detect image manipulation. Even if few people will fall for an AI-created photo, it could only take one vulnerable official to leak sensitive data.