Think before you link

27 November 2023

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A news story today caught my attention. It's regarding a warning issued by the head of MI5, the United Kingdom's domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, concerning professional networking websites.

At a security summit in Silicon Valley, California, USA, attended by security chiefs from the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, Ken McCallum, the head of MI5, claimed that over 20,000 people in the UK have now been approached covertly online by Chinese spies, primarily via professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, in order to gain commercially sensitive information.

What does this have to do with cranes and why am I so interested? Well, working in the 'information' business - which is essentially what publishing is - I am naturally concerned with the impact the sharing and distribution of information has. Indeed, the Cranes Today LinkedIn page (@Cranes Today Magazine) has seen rapid growth and the LinkedIn platform itself is growing in strength as a business tool. I know that many of you are increasingly utilising it and it is also proving to be a valuable resource for me when I'm writing articles.

The UK government, however, has been so concerned about the spying threat that it launched a campaign to educate its workers about it (see the poster on the right).

Some of the possible dangers include: data leakage - where users may unintentionally disclose proprietary or confidential information in their profiles, posts, or conversations; social engineering attacks - where cybercriminals use information to craft convincing phishing emails or messages to trick employees into revealing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links; insider threats - where employees inadvertently or intentionally share sensitive data with their network connections; competitive intelligence - where competitors can gather information from company employees' profiles, job postings, or company updates to gain insights into strategies, products, and future plans; third-party applications – where users connect third-party services to their professional networking profiles. These applications may have access to data shared on the platform, potentially leading to data breaches; and finally phishing and impersonation – where attackers create fake profiles impersonating employees, partners, or customers to trick staff into sharing sensitive information or taking harmful actions.

Despite these possible threats, though, I worry that MI5's warnings could also foster unwarrented feelings of fear and paranoia against legitimate Chinese businesses.

In the crane industry, for example, Chinese companies Zoomlion and Sany are both making inroads into the European market via sound, legal and totally transparent means. If you wish to see what Zoomlion's business strategy for Europe is simply turn to page 25 where Zoomlion Europe's CEO Davide Cipolla is frank and clear on exactly how the company is achieving results. And tomorrow I'm off to see the UK launch of Sany's SAC600E all terrain. Like it or not, these companies are making progress through good old fashioned hard work.

Certainly be cautious when it comes to professional networking sites; they hold a lot of value and power – which can be abused. Just be mindful not to let safety and security develop into delusion and division.