MBIE hired security company to teach employees how to create fake online personas

MBIE hired security company to teach employees how to create fake online personas
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The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) spent $112,000 teaching its staff how to use fake social media profiles to get information on people.

The contract with ZX Security was published to the MBIE website on the 18th December 2018, although it was signed by ZX Security and MBIE a year ago.

The contract details elements of the workshops, and what employees are expected to learn.

"The provider will deliver an advanced social media training course to Ministry workers using false personas on social media for verification and investigation purposes," the document states.

Modules such as "harvesting information from social media and other sources with minimal programming knowledge" and "how to maintain multiple identities across various social networks by creating a backstory for your personas" are detailed in the contract.

Employees will also be taught "systems and processes for sending and receiving anonymous messages (SMS and email)" and "how to extract meta-data from images such as GPS coordinates and device information (e.g mobile phone/camera model)".

As well as maintaining false identities, MBIE staff learned how to identify people on social media by their use of language and how to "harvest information from social networks".

At the end of the course, a workshop is offered. The workshop aims to have attendees "use the skills gained during the course to create a detailed dossier on a group or individual". 

MBIE employees in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland are doing the courses.

Class sizes are roughly 10 people, according to the contract and the course is scheduled to be completed by March 2021.

A spokesperson from MBIE told NZME that the contract is still in force, but would not directly answer why employees received the training, or what it was for.

ZX Security, the company running the courses, is an IT security company based in Wellington. The company was established in 2013 and specialises in security and "open source intelligence".

The company website details open source intelligence training as "the techniques and tools used to conduct successful investigations over the internet".

The director of ZX Security was approached for comment, but declined to speak.



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