The Government Has a Sock Puppet Theater

January 13, 2017

Law enforcement officials use fake social media accounts and online profiles to engage with criminals.  Their goal is to deter crime, possibly even catching criminals in the act for a rock solid case.  While this happened way back in 2011, the comments are still coming.  In light of the recent presidential election and the violent acts of the past year, it is no wonder the comments are still fresh.  Tech Dirt talked about how the, “US Military Kicks Off Plan To Fill Social Networks With Fake Sock Puppet Accounts.”

The goal was for a company to develop a software that would allow one person to create and manage various social media profiles (including more than one profile on the same platform).  These accounts will then, and we are speculating on this given how dummy accounts have been used in the past, to catch criminals.  The article highlights how the government would use the sock puppet accounts:

Apparently a company called Ntrepid has scored the contract and the US military is getting ready to roll out these “sock puppet” online personas. Of course, it insists that all of this is targeting foreign individuals, not anyone in the US. And they promise it’s not even going to be used on US-based social networks like Facebook or Twitter, but does anyone actually believe that’s true?

Then the comments roll in a conversation that a span of five years the commentators argue about what it means to be American, reaffirming that the US government spies on its citizens, and making fun of sock puppets.

Whitney Grace, January 13, 2017

Yahoo Takes on ISIS, in Its Way

January 9, 2017

The article on VentureBeat titled Yahoo Takes Steps to Remove Content Posted From ISIS and Other Terrorist Groups remarks on the recent changes Yahoo made to its community guidelines. The updated guidelines now specify that any content or accounts involved with terrorist organizations, even those that “celebrate” violence connected to terrorist activity are up for deletion or deactivation. The article speaks to the relevance of these new guidelines that follow hard upon the heels of Orlando and San Bernardino,

Twitter has responded as well, “suspending over 125,000 accounts” related to terrorism. Messaging app Telegram has also blocked 78 channels that engaged in ISIS-related activity. Kathleen Lefstad, Yahoo’s policy manager for trust and safety, wrote that this new category is in addition to other types of content that are flagged, including hate speech, bullying or harassment, and sharing adult or sexualized content of someone without their consent.

ISIS has grown infamous for its social media presence and ability to draw foreign supporters through social media platforms. Yahoo’s crackdown is a welcome sign of awareness that these platforms must take some responsibility for how their services are being abused. Priorities, folks. If Facebook’s machine learning content security can remove any sign of a woman’s nipple within 24 hours, shouldn’t content that endorses terrorism be deleted in half the time?

Chelsea Kerwin, January 9, 2017

Twitter Fingers May Be Sharing News Story Links but That Does Not Mean Anyone Read the Article

December 14, 2016

The article on ScienceDaily titled New Study Highlights Power of Crowd to Transmit News on Twitter shows that Twitter is, in fact, good at something. That something is driving recommendations of news stories. A study executed by Columbia University and the French National Institute found that the vast majority of clicks on news stories is based on reader referrals. The article details the findings:

Though far more readers viewed the links news outlets promoted directly on Twitter… most of what readers shared and read was crowd-curated. Eighty-two percent of shares, and 61 percent of clicks, of the tweets in the study sample referred to content readers found on their own. But the crowd’s relative influence varied by outlet; 85 percent of clicks on tweets tied to a BBC story came from reader recommendations while only 10 percent of tweets tied to a Fox story did.

It will come as no shock that people are getting a lot more of their news through social media, but the study also suggests that people are often sharing stories without reading them at all. Indeed, one of the scientists stated that the correlation between likes, shares, and actual reads is very low. The problem inherent in this system is that readers will inevitably only look at content that they already agree with in a news loop that results in an even less informed public with even more information at their fingertips than ever before. Thanks Twitter.

Chelsea Kerwin, December 14, 2016

Tor Comes to the Rescue of Turkish Online Activists

November 29, 2016

Authorities in Turkey have effectively banned the use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Tor, however, has to come to the rescue of users, particularly online activists who want to get the word out about the social unrest in the country.

Motherboard in a report tiled Turks Are Flocking to Tor After Government Orders Block of Anti-Censorship Tools says:

Turkish Internet users are flocking to Tor, the anonymizing and censorship circumvention tool, after Turkey’s government blocked Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Usage of Tor inside of Turkey went up from around 18,000 users to 25,000 users on Friday, when the government started blocking the popular social media networks, according to Tor’s official metrics.

Apart from direct connection to the Tor Network through TOR browser, the network also allows users to use bridge relays that circumvent any access restrictions by ISPs. Though it’s not yet clear if ISPs in Turkey have also banned Tor access; however, the bridge relay connections have seen a spike in number since the ban was implemented.

It is speculated that the Government may have notified ISPs to ban Tor access, but failed to tell them to do so effectively, which becomes apparent here (a Tweet by a user):

I believe the government just sent the order and didn’t give any guide about how to do it,” Sabanc? told Motherboard in an online chat via Twitter. “And now ISPs trying to figure it out.

This is not the first time Tor has come to the rescue of online activists. One thing though is sure, more and more people concerned about their privacy or do not want to be repressed turning towards anonymous networks like Tor.

Vishal Ingole, November 29, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

AI to Profile Gang Members on Twitter

November 16, 2016

Researchers from Ohio Center of Excellence in Knowledge-enabled Computing (Kno.e.sis) are claiming that an algorithm developed by them is capable of identifying gang members on Twitter.

Vice.com recently published an article titled Researchers Claim AI Can Identify Gang Members on Twitter, which claims that:

A deep learning AI algorithm that can identify street gang members based solely on their Twitter posts, and with 77 percent accuracy.

The article then points out the shortcomings of the algorithm or AI by saying this:

According to one expert contacted by Motherboard, this technology has serious shortcomings that might end up doing more harm than good, especially if a computer pegs someone as a gang member just because they use certain words, enjoy rap, or frequently use certain emojis—all criteria employed by this experimental AI.

The shortcomings do not end here. The data on Twitter is being analyzed in a silo. For example, let us assume that few gang members are identified using the algorithm (remember, no location information is taken into consideration by the AI), what next?

Is it not necessary then to also identify other social media profiles of the supposed gang members, look at Big Data generated by them, analyze their communication patterns and then form some conclusion? Unfortunately, none of this is done by the AI. It, in fact, would be a mammoth task to extrapolate data from multiple sources just to identify people with certain traits.

And most importantly, what if the AI is put in place, and someone just for the sake of fun projects an innocent person as a gang member? As rightly pointed out in the article – machines trained on prejudiced data tend to reproduce those same, very human, prejudices.

Vishal Ingole, November  16, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Iceland Offers the First Human Search Engine

November 8, 2016

Iceland is a northern country that one does not think about much.  It is cold, has a high literacy rate, and did we mention it was cold?  Despite its frigid temperatures, Iceland is a beautiful country with a rich culture and friendly people.  shares just how friendly the Icelanders are with their new endeavor: “Iceland Launches ‘Ask Guðmundur,’ The World’s First Human Search Engine.”

Here is what the country is doing:

The decidedly Icelandic and truly personable service will see special representatives from each of Iceland’s seven regions offer their insider knowledge to the world via Inspired By Iceland’s social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube).   Each representative shares the name Guðmundur or Guðmunda, currently one of the most popular forenames in the country with over 4,000 men and women claiming it as their own.

Visitors to the site can literally submit their questions and have them answered by an expert.  Each of the seven Guðmundurs is an Icelandic regional expert.  Iceland’s goal with the human search engine is to answer’s the world’s questions about the country, but to answer them in the most human way possible: with actual humans.

A human search engine is an awesome marketing campaign for Iceland.  One of the best ways to encourage tourism is to introduce foreigners to the locale people and customs, the more welcoming, quirky, and interesting is all the better for Iceland.  So go ahead, ask Guðmundur.

Whitney Grace, November 8, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Posting to the Law Enforcement Database

October 28, 2016

The article titled Police Searches of Social Media Face Privacy Pushback on Underground Network discusses the revelations of an NPR article of the same name. While privacy laws are slow to catch up to the fast-paced changes in social media, law enforcement can use public data to track protesters (including retroactive tracking). The ACLU and social media networks are starting to push back against the notion that this is acceptable. The NPR article refers to the Twitter guidelines,

The guidelines bar search companies from allowing law enforcement agencies to use the data to “investigate, track or surveil Twitter’s users (…) in a manner that would require a subpoena, court order, or other valid legal process or that would otherwise have the potential to be inconsistent with our users’ reasonable expectations of privacy.” But that policy is very much open to interpretation, because police don’t usually need legal orders to search public social media…

Some police departments have acknowledged that fuzziness around privacy laws puts the onus on them to police their own officers. The Dunwoody, Georgia police department requires supervisor approval for social media searches. They explain that this is to prevent targeting “particular groups” of people. According to the article, how this issue unfolds is largely up to police departments and social media giants like Twitter and Facebook to decide. But social media has been around for over a decade. Where are the laws defining and protecting our privacy?

Chelsea Kerwin, October 28, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

How to Find an Email Address

October 27, 2016

Like any marketers, search engine optimizers must reach out to potential clients, and valid email addresses are important resources. Now, Search Engine Journal explains “How to Find Anyone’s Email Address in 60 Seconds or Less.” Anyone’s, really? Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

SEO pro, Joshua Daniels discusses six techniques to quickly find an email address. He writes:

If you’re a specialist in SEO or link acquisition, then you’ll know that generic email addresses are as much use as a chocolate fireguard when it comes to outreach. You need to develop personal connections with influencers, regardless of whether you work in PR or SEO, it’s always the same. But finding the right person’s email address can be a draining, time-consuming task. Who has time for that?

Well, actually, it’s not so difficult, or time-consuming. In this post, I’m going to walk you through the exact step-by-step process our agency uses to find (almost) anyone’s email address, in 60 seconds or less!

For each suggestion, Daniels provides instructions, most with screen shots. First, he recommends LinkedIn’s search function paired with Email Hunter, a tool which integrates with the career site. If that doesn’t work, he says, try a combination of the Twitter analyzer Followerwonk and corporate-email-finder Voila Norbert.

The article also suggests leveraging Google’s search operators with one of these formats: [site:companywebsite.com + “name” + contact] or [site:companywebsite.com + “name” + email]. To test whether an email address is correct, verify it with MailTester, and to target someone who posts on Twitter, search the results of All My Tweets for keywords like “email” or “@companyname.com”. If all else fails, Daniels advises, go old school—“… pick up the phone and just ask.”

Cynthia Murrell, October 27, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Trending Topics: Google and Twitter Compared

October 25, 2016

For those with no time to browse through the headlines, tools that aggregate trending topics can provide a cursory way to keep up with the news. The blog post from communications firm Cision, “How to Find Trending Topics Like an Expert,” examines the two leading trending topic tools—Google’s and Twitter’s. Each approaches its tasks differently, so the best choice depends on the user’s needs.

Though the Google Trends homepage is limited, according to writer Jim Dougherty, one can get further with its extension, Google Explore. He elaborates:

If we go to the Google Trends Explore page (google.com/trends/explore), our sorting options become more robust. We can sort by the following criteria:

*By country (or worldwide)

*By time (search within a customized date range – minimum: past hour, maximum: since 2004)

*By category (arts and entertainment, sports, health, et cetera)

*By Google Property (web search, image search, news search, Google Shopping, YouTube)

You can also use the search feature via the trends page or explore the page to search the popularity of a search term over a period (custom date ranges are permitted), and you can compare the popularity of search terms using this feature as well. The Explore page also allows you to download any chart to a .csv file, or to embed the table directly to a website.

The write-up goes on to note that there are no robust third-party tools to parse data found with Google Trends/ Explore, because the company has not made the API publicly available.

Unlike Google, we’re told, Twitter does not make it intuitive to find and analyze trending topics. However, its inclusion of location data can make Twitter a valuable source for this information, if you know how to find it. Dougherty suggests a work-around:

To ‘analyze’ current trends on the native Twitter app, you have to go to the ‘home’ page. In the lower left of the home page you’ll see ‘trending topics’ and immediately below that a ‘change’ button which allows you to modify the location of your search.

Location is a huge advantage of Twitter trends compared to Google: Although Google’s data is more robust and accessible in general, it can only be parsed by country. Twitter uses Yahoo’s GeoPlanet infrastructure for its location data so that it can be exercised at a much more granular level than Google Trends.

Since Twitter does publicly share its trending-topics API, there are third-party tools one can use with Twitter Trends, like TrendoGate, TrendsMap, and ttHistory. The post concludes with a reminder to maximize the usefulness of data with tools that “go beyond trends,” like (unsurprisingly) the monitoring software offered by Daugherty’s company. Paid add-ons may be worth it for some enterprises, but we recommend you check out what is freely available first.

Cynthia Murrell, October 25, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

New Terrorism and Technology Reports Released

October 11, 2016

Attempting to understand the level of threat a terrorist organization poses continues to be difficult. DefenseSystems.com published Report: Electronic jihad grows in sophistication, which shares the cyber-jihad survey from the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology. The authors of this survey present social media and other cyberspace tools to be “the great equalizer” in warfare. In addition to social media, there are a few hacker groups which have launched attacks on western websites and Arab media: the Cyber Caliphate, the dedicated hacker division of the Islamic State, and the Terrorist Team for Electronic Jihad. The write-up explains,

The cyber jihad survey notes that ISIS has mostly dedicated its expanding offensive cyber capabilities to specific social media accounts, including the Twitter and YouTube accounts of U.S. Central Command. Offensive capabilities are thought to include the use of malware, insider threats and “preconfigured tools.” Malware efforts have included spear-phishing emails containing malware designed to sweep up the IP addresses and geolocation data about anti-ISIS groups in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria. As ISIS and other cyber-jihadists become more sophisticated and aggressive, experts worry that they will eventually attempt more audacious attacks.

However, a report from the federal government suggests ISIS’ Twitter traffic dropped 45 percent in the past two years. While terrorist group’s technology may be expanding in the arena of offensive strikes, officials believe the decline in Twitter popularity suggests recruitment may be slowing. We think there needs to more analysis of recruitment via Dark Web.

Megan Feil, October 11, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

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