New government app launched to detect online spies

The UK government has launched an app dedicated to detecting the online activity of spies using false accounts

The Think Before You Link app will help users spot suspicious approaches that may lead to sensitive data being breached and shared, the BBC reports.

Users of the new app will be asked questions to assess whether a profile approaching them could be false, including whether said profile sent messages to flatter the user, or made major financial offers.

Responses to the questions provided by the users will then be examined to determine the profile is high, medium or low risk, with those deemed medium or high risk being recommended for reporting to the social media platform.

Its website also states that those answering these questions could earn “trophies and certificates which can be shared with their security team”.

Additionally, a reverse image search feature is included, which is reusable from other sites, with fake images being a common tool utilised by spies.

While free to download today, the app is primarily aimed at government officials and those working in sensitive industries.

The M15 has revealed it has seen 10,000 UK nationals being targeted by threat actors, with many spies initially asking for less sensitive information before intensifying their approaches.

“Foreign spies are actively working to build relationships with those working in government, in high-tech business and in academia,” said Ken McCallum, director general of MI5.

“The Think Before You Link app supports those who may be receiving disguised approaches, helping them to conduct their own digital due diligence before accepting unknown contacts online.”

Barriers to overcome

While a welcome step in the right direction when it comes to mitigating fraud online, the Think Before You Link app is designed to highlight risks rather than provide definite answers, due to it not accessing databases of spies.

As states increasingly deploy AI-powered capabilities, including more advanced deepfake technology, the ability to distinguish genuine from false identities could become even harder.

According to Steve Barclay, lead Minister for Cyber Security, false identities are being used at an “industrial scale”, meaning it is “crucial that we do all we can to protect ourselves and our information, ensuring those who we connect with online are who they say they are. This new app will be an important tool in that endeavour.”

More information on the Think Before You Link app can be found here.

Related:

Why fraud is getting more sophisticated — Dimitrie Dorgan, senior fraud specialist at Onfido, explores why fraud is getting more sophisticated, and how organisations can prevent it.

The role of online ID authentication in increasing social media safety — Annie Mullins OBE, safety advisor at Yubo and founder of Trust + Safety Group, discusses the role that online ID authentication and verification can play in increasing social media safety, trust and security.