Mia Ash is a 30-year-old British woman with two art school degrees, a successful career as a photographer, and plenty of friends—more than 500 on Facebook, and just as many on LinkedIn. A disproportionate number of those friends happen to be Middle Eastern men, and when she posts coy selfies to Facebook, they shower her with likes. Her intriguing relationship status: "It's complicated." No kidding. Mia Ash doesn't exist.
Instead, she's a persona, her biography fabricated and her photos stolen from another woman's online profiles, according to researchers at the security firm SecureWorks. They believe Ash is the elaborate creation of Iranian state-sponsored hackers who have targeted dozens of organizations around the Middle East in a massive, years-long campaign of espionage and possibly even data destruction.