Dark Purpose Apps: Are These a Big New Thing?

June 23, 2018

Very few apps are made with the intent to cause harm to others, but that doesn’t stop criminals from using good apps for bad purposes. What seemed to have started with stories of people having their homes robbed after posting vacation photos on Facebook has taken a darker turn, as we discovered in a recent New York Times piece, “Hundreds of Apps Can Empower Stalkers to Track Their Victims.”

According to the story:

“More than 200 apps and services offer would-be stalkers a variety of capabilities, from basic location tracking to harvesting texts and even secretly recording video, according to a new academic study. More than two dozen services were promoted as surveillance tools for spying on romantic partners, according to the researchers and reporting by The New York Times.”

Oddly, these apps are also being used by many dark web deviants who are suffering under increased government and law enforcement crackdowns of their domains. Several dark web criminals have switched to very public apps to evade police, much like a bank robber escaping into a crowd to lose the cops. Look for more stories like this in the future as criminals find more ways to exploit the tools and apps we all use everyday.

Patrick Roland, June 23, 2018

Talking to Software: Policeware Vendors Ignored This Next Big Thing

June 9, 2018

On the flight from somewhere in Europe to Kentucky, I reflected on the demonstrations, presentations, and sales pitches to which I was exposed at a large international law enforcement and intelligence conference.

I realized that none of the presenters or enthusiastic marketers tried to tell me about chatbots. The term refers to a basket of technologies that allow a user to ignore tapping or keyboarding to get actionable information.

When the flight landed, I noted a link in my feed stream to “Chatbots Were the Next Big Thing: What Happened?” My personal experience from four days of talking to humans and listening to explainers was that chatbots were marginalized, maybe left in the office file cabinet.

The write up states:

…Who would monopolize the field, not whether chatbots would take off in the first place:

“Will a single platform emerge to dominate the chatbot and personal assistant ecosystem?”

One year on, we have an answer to that question.


Because there isn’t even an ecosystem for a platform to dominate.

That seems clear.

The write up points out that chatbots were supposed to marginalize applications. One of the more interesting items of information in the article is a collection of chatbots stuck for an answer.

Net net: Like quantum computing, smart software has potential. But technologies with potential have been just around the corner for many years.

Marketing, confident assertions, and bold predictions are one thing. Delivering high value results remains a different task.

Stephen E Arnold, June 9, 2018

Want Mobile Traffic? New Tactics May Be Needed

May 30, 2018

I read “Mobile Direct Traffic Eclipses Facebook.” Like any research, I like to know the size of the sample, the methodology, and the “shaping” which the researchers bring to the project. To answer these questions, one must see other sources cited in the write up, including Nieman Lab, which appears to be recycling Chartbeat data. In short, I don’t know much about the research design or other aspects of the research.

Nevertheless, I noted a handful of statements or “facts” which on the surface struck me as interesting. The study data appear to support the assertion that “mobile does not equal social”.

First, the study reports that “mobile direct to traffic has surpassed Facebook.” I think this means that if those in the sample use a mobile device, some of those users use an app or a browser to go directly to a site. At first glance, Facebook seems to be a major player but it is, according to the survey, trending down from being the gateway to information for some mobile device users.

Second, the write up points out sites offering “content” are not losing visitors. On one hand, the finding suggests that Facebook is not a gateway trending upwards. I have seen reports suggesting that Facebook has been negatively affected by the Cambridge Analytica matter, but I have also seen reports which assert that Facebook is adding users. Which is it? That’s the question, isn’t it?

Third, the Chartbeat data put Google as the leading source of traffic to sites. What this means is that the “gap” between Facebook and Google as referrers seems to be getting bigger. Bad news for Facebook and good news for Google if the data are accurate.

Several observations:

  • The data, if accurate, make it clear that Google and its Android operating system have a clear path to the barn
  • Facebook may have to begin the process of adapting to mobile users who do not use Facebook as the gateway to the Internet (whatever that ends up being)
  • Governments interested in censoring certain content streams have a crude road map for determine what online destinations should be cut off from the information superhighway. (The law enforcement addiction to Facebook and Twitter may require some special treatment at clinics run by Google and high traffic destinations accessed via an app.)

To sum up, if the data in the Chartbeat report are accurate, changes are underway. Some positive, some negative. There is, however, that “if.”

Stephen E Arnold, May 30, 2018

Mobile Search: The Google Focus

May 28, 2018

SEO is the ultimate moving target. Just as you get a hunch about what algorithms are looking for in order to boost rankings, the algorithms and parameters change and you practically have to start from scratch. It’s a convoluted world to navigate fresh and we were pleased to find a really competent explanation of the latest landscape change, the Mobile First Index, in a recent Search Engine Watch story, “Google’s Mobile First Index: Six Actions to Minimize Risk and Maximize Ranking Opportunities.”

According to the story:

“In any period of uncertainty there are opportunities to take advantage of and risks to manage – and in competitive SEO niches, taking every chance to get ahead is important… “Whatever your starting point – the mobile-first index is the new normal in SEO, and now is the time to get to grips with the challenge – and potential.”

Your starting point, it seems, should involve voice search. Another compelling article makes the point that the ideal pairing of Mobile First Indexing is voice search. Watch for this massive shift to happen rapidly. Critics have been eyeing the future of voice search for a while and now the pieces are finally in place.

Old fashioned keyword search seems to be less and less relevant.

Patrick Roland, May 28, 2018

Mobile Phone Usage Insights?

May 20, 2018

I read “Students Spend Four to Seven Hours on Phones, Check Them 150 Times a Day, Study Finds.” These types of reports interest me. “Students” refers to a sample drawn from 20 “central universities” (whatever that means) and 200 students. How were these “students” lured into interviews? Self selection, money, or the joy of having a chance to share their behaviors. These are behaviors, I wish to point out, already known to certain organizations monitoring mobile phone usage.

I highlighted several pieces of “real” data which I found interesting:

  • The sample comes from India. How closely to these behavior patterns match the actions of a similar sample in Italy or the United States?
  • The study included the word “hedonism.” That’s a great word and strikes me as one design
  • 26 percent of those in the sample “use smartphones to make calls”
  • 63 percent use a smartphone for four to seven hours each day

The point I found interesting, assuming that it is statistically valid, is that almost one fourth of those in the sample use a smartphone more than eight hours per day.

Perhaps a career as an eye doctor is one to consider?

Stephen E Arnold, May 20, 2018

DarkCyber Profiles the Grayshift iPhone Unlocking Appliance

April 5, 2018

DarkCyber has released a special video report about Grayshift’s iPhone unlocking device for law enforcement forensics professionals. The GrayKey device unlocks most iPhones quickly and without the need to ship the suspect’s mobile phone off site.

The video is available on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/262858305.

The video covers the pricing for the iPhone unlocker and its key features. Plus, the video product overview identifies the challenges that Grayshift will have to overcome if it wants to become the preferred provider of plug-and-unlock iPhone devices.

Stephen E Arnold said, “Grayshift’s GrayKey is important because it offers an easy-to-use iPhone unlocking system. Four digit passcode protected devices can be unlocked in two to three hours. Apple mobiles with six digit passcodes can be unlocked in two to three days. The device can be used in a mobile forensics lab and costs a fraction of some competitive solutions. GrayKey looks like the right product at the right time and at the right price.”

DarkCyber is a weekly video new program for law enforcement, intelligence, and security professionals. The special report series will focus on a single product, service, or technical innovation.

This is a special report in his CyberOSINT Tools series. These special reports will be issued when notable products, services, or technologies become available to law enforcement and intelligence professionals.

Stephen E Arnold is the author of “Dark Web Notebook” and “CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access.” He has been named as a technology adviser to the UK based Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Human Trafficking and Child Sex Abuse.” Mr. Arnold also lectures to law enforcement and intelligence professionals attending the Telestrategies ISS conferences in Prague, Washington, DC, and Panama City, Panama. In recent months, he has shared his research with law enforcement and intelligence professionals in the US and Europe. His most recent lectures focus on deanonymizing chat and digital currency transactions. One hour and full day programs are available via webinars and on-site presentations.

Kenny Toth, April 5, 2018

Will Mobile Be Microsoft Downfall in AI Field?

January 12, 2018

We are startled to see Computerworld levy such a blow to Microsoft, but here we go— see their article, “The Missing Link in Microsoft’s AI Strategy.” Writer Preston Gralla insists that the company’s weakness lies in mobile tech—and it could prove to be a real problem as Microsoft competes against the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon in the growing field of AI. Galla acknowledges Microsoft’s advantages here—its vast quantities of valuable data and its AI system, Cortana, already built into Windows. However, she writes:

Microsoft is missing something very big in A.I. as well: a significant mobile presence. Google and Apple, via Android and iOS, gather tremendous amounts of useful data for their A.I. work. And gathering the data is just the starting point. Hundreds of millions of people around the world use the A.I.-powered Siri, Google Assistant and Google Now on their mobile devices. So Google and Apple can continue to improve their A.I. work, based on how people use their devices. Given that the future (and to a great extent, the present) is mobile, all this means serious problems for Microsoft in A.I. A.I. is likely a big part of the reason that Microsoft kept Windows Phone on life support for so many years, spending billions of dollars while it died a slow, ugly, public death.

The article outlines a few things Microsoft has been doing to try to catch up to its rivals, like developing (little-used) versions of Cortana for iOS and Android, working with hardware makers on Cortana-powered speakers, and partnering with Amazon’s Alexa for any tasks Cortana is not quite up to (yet). Will this need to play catch-up seriously hamper Microsoft’s AI prominence? We shall see.

Cynthia Murrell, January 12, 2018

Law Enforcement Do Not Like Smartphones

December 26, 2017

Smartphones and privacy concerns are always hot topics after mass shootings and terroristic acts.  The killers and terrorists always use their smartphones to communicate with allies, buy supplies, and even publicize their actions.  Thanks to these criminals, law enforcement officials want tech companies to build backdoors into phones so they can always can the information.  The remainder of the public does not like this.  One apple spoils the entire batch.  KPTV explains why smartphones are a problem in “Why Smartphones Are Giving Police Fits.”

After the recent mass shooting in Texas, police were unable to hack into the killer’s phone because of all the privacy software in place.  Law enforcement do not like this because they are unable to retrieve data from suspects’ phones.  Software developers insist that the encryption software is necessary for digital privacy, but police do not like that.  It holds up their investigations.

…it could take specialists weeks to unlock the phone and access material that may reveal the killer’s motive and other information.


The FBI’s first option is likely to pressure the device-maker to help access the phone, but if that won’t work they could try breaking into it. Sometimes “brute force” attacks aimed at methodically guessing a user’s passcode can open a device, though that won’t work with all phones.

Arora said the difficulty of breaking into the phone would depend on numerous factors, including the strength of the gunman’s passcode and the make and model of the phone. Police may have more options if it’s an Android phone, since security practices can vary across different manufacturers.

The tech companies, though, are out to protect the average person, especially after the Edward Snowden incident.  The worry is that if all smartphones have a backdoor, then it will be used for more harm than good.  It establishes a dangerous precedent.

Law enforcement, however, needs to do their jobs.  This is similar to how the Internet is viewed.  It is a revolutionary tool, but a few bad apples using it for sex trafficking, selling illegal goods, and child porn ruins it for the rest of us.

Whitney Grace, December 26, 2017

Is the End of Google Web Search Coming?

December 20, 2017

I read “Google to Use Mobile Version of a Site to Determine Mobile Rankings.” The info, if on the money, makes clear that the Google cares about mobile, not desktop anchor Web search. No surprise. The article reported:

[The write up quoted a Googler as stating:] “Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.” These changes probably won’t affect end users too much, but it does highlight how Google’s efforts are starting to focus more on mobile.

I think the word for this modest step is “deprecate.” Flash forward a year or so and what have we got? Less “deep” Google indexing of non mobile Web sites. Fewer PowerPoints indexed. Fewer PDFs indexed. In short, the lack of rigor in indexing the Railway Retirement Board comes to boat anchor Web sites.

Web indexing is expensive and likely to be facing “friction” from the net neutrality change. This means mobile is money for the GOOG.

Just a thought from Harrod’s Creek.

Stephen E Arnold, December 20, 2017

Compare Two Devices Within Google Search Results

December 18, 2017

Is Google chasing Consumer Reports now?  A very brief write-up at Android Police reveals, “Google Search Can Now Compare Specifications Between Devices and Highlight Differences.” Reporter Corbin Davenport writes:

Google occasionally adds new features to its web search or makes design changes, sometimes without a public announcement. Most recently, Google began rolling out a rounded interface to the mobile search. Now, the company appears to be testing a new comparison feature. For some users, searching for two devices with ‘vs’ in the middle (for example, ‘Pixel 2 vs Pixel 2 XL’) brings up a new comparison chart. A few rows are visible on the main results, and tapping the blue button expands it to show every detail. There’s even a mode to highlight differences between the two. It doesn’t seem to work with three or more devices, only two.

I cannot say whether the feature has been rolled out across the board as of this writing, but it did work on my Android phone. What else does Google have up its sleeve?

Cynthia Murrell, December 18, 2017


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