LinkedIn, operator of the biggest professional networking site, said hackers using automated software created thousands of fake member accounts and copied data from actual member profile pages.
The practice, known as data “scraping,” violates LinkedIn's user agreements and federal and state computer fraud laws, the company said in a complaint filed Monday against the unknown hackers in federal court in San Francisco. It has also strained and disrupted the company's network computers and threatens to degrade the value of LinkedIn Recruiter, a fee- based service used by Fortune 100 companies that's one of the company's fastest-growing offerings, according to the complaint.
“It undermines the integrity and effectiveness of LinkedIn's professional network by polluting it with thousands of fake member profiles,” Jonathan Blavin, a lawyer for the company, said in the complaint.
Since May hackers have circumvented LinkedIn's security programs and created thousands of new member accounts, which allows them to view hundreds of thousands of member profiles each day, the company said in the complaint. The defendants accessed LinkedIn using a cloud computer platform offered by Amazon Web Services, it said. LinkedIn expects to identify those who created the fake accounts by serving subpoenas on the Amazon service, it said. Amazon.com isn't named as a defendant.
LinkedIn said in the complaint that it tracks the activity of the fake member profiles and has disabled them. The company is seeking a court order blocking the practice and unspecified damages.
“We're a members-first organization and we feel we have a responsibility to protect the control that our members have over the information they put on LinkedIn,” said Hani Durzy, a spokesman for the Mountain View, California-based company. LinkedIn said it has more than 259 million members.
Twitter has also fought public battles with fake accounts. In its prospectus for a November initial public offering, the company listed spam as a risk factor that could “hurt our reputation for delivering relevant content or reduce user growth and user engagement and result in continuing operational cost to us.”
While Twitter estimated that phony accounts make up less than 5 percent of monthly active users, the company said it's hard to be sure — the actual percentage could be higher than that, according to the prospectus.