Another OSINT Blind Spot: Fake Reviews

November 9, 2022

Fraud comes in many flavors. Soft fraud is a mostly ignored branch of online underhandedness. Examples range from online merchants selling products which don’t work or are never shipped to phishing scams designed to obtain online credentials. One tributary to the Mississippi River of online misbehavior is the category “Fake Reviews.” These appear on many services; for example, Amazon. Some authors and publishers crank out suspicious reviews as a standard business practice. Those with some cash and a low level of energy just hire ghost promoters on Fiverr-like services.

I noted “Up to 30% of Online Reviews Are Fake and Most Consumers Can’t Tell the Difference.” The write up says:

The latest survey from Brand Rated shows nine out of ten consumers use reviews to help decide what to buy, where to eat and which doctor or dentist to see. Experts say that’s a problem because up to 30% of online reviews are fake. “My research shows that the review platforms are just saturated with fake reviews. Far more so than most people are aware of,” said [Kay] Dean [Founder of Fake Review Watch.]

Several questions, assuming the data are accurate:

  1. What incentives exist for bad actors to surf on this cloud of unknowing?
  2. How will smart software identify “fake content” and deal with it in a constructive way?
  3. How many of the individuals in this magical 30 percent will have difficulty making sense of conflicting technical or medical information?

Net net: Cyber crime (hard and soft) are entering a golden age. OSINT analysts, are you able to identify real and fake in a reliable way? Think carefully about your answer.

Stephen E Arnold, November 9, 2022

A Flashing Yellow Light for GitHub: Will Indifferent Drivers Notice?

November 9, 2022

I read “We’ve Filed a Law­suit Chal­leng­ing GitHub Copi­lot, an AI Prod­uct That Relies on Unprece­dented Open-Source Soft­ware Piracy. Because AI Needs to Be Bair & Eth­i­cal for Every­one.” The write up reports:

… we’ve filed a class-action law­suit in US fed­eral court in San Fran­cisco, CA on behalf of a pro­posed class of pos­si­bly mil­lions of GitHub users. We are chal­leng­ing the legal­ity of GitHub Copi­lot (and a related prod­uct, OpenAI Codex, which pow­ers Copi­lot). The suit has been filed against a set of defen­dants that includes GitHub, Microsoft (owner of GitHub), and OpenAI.

My view of GitHub is that it presents a number of challenges. On one hand, Microsoft is a pedal-to-the-metal commercial outfit and GitHub is an outfit with some roots in the open source “community” world. Many intelware solutions depend on open source software. In my experience, it is difficult to determine whether cyber security vendors or intelware vendors offer software free of open source code. I am not sure the top dogs in these firms know. Big commercial companies love open source software because these firms see a way to avoid the handcuffs proprietary code vendors use for lock in and lock down without a permission slip. These permissions can be purchased. This fee irritates many of the largest companies which are avid users of open source software.

A second challenge of GitHub is that it serves bad actors in two interesting ways. Those eager to compromise networks, automate phishing attacks, and probe the soft underbelly of companies “protected” by somewhat Swiss Cheese like digital moats rely on open source tools. Second, the libraries for some code on GitHub is fiddled so that those who use libraries but never check too closely about their plumbing are super duper attack and compromise levering vectors. When I was in Romania, “Hooray for GitHub” was, in my opinion, one of the more popular youth hang out disco hits.

The write up adds a new twist: Allegedly inappropriate use of the intellectual property of open source software on GitHub. The write up states:

As far as we know, this is the first class-action case in the US chal­leng­ing the train­ing and out­put of AI sys­tems. It will not be the last. AI sys­tems are not exempt from the law. Those who cre­ate and oper­ate these sys­tems must remain account­able. If com­pa­nies like Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI choose to dis­re­gard the law, they should not expect that we the pub­lic will sit still. AI needs to be fair & eth­i­cal for every­one.

This issue is an important one. The friction for this matter is that the US government is dependent on open source to some degree. Microsoft is a major US government contractor. A number of Federal agencies are providing money to companies engaged in strategically significant research and development of artificial intelligence.

The different parties to this issue may exert or apply influence.

Worth watching because Amazon- and Google-type companies want to be the Big Dog in smart software. Once the basic technology has been appropriated, will these types of companies pull the plug on open source support and god cloud commercial? Will attorneys benefit while the open source community suffers? Will this legal matter mark the start of a sharp decline in open source software?

Stephen E Arnold, November 9, 2022

OSINT Is Popular. Just Exercise Caution

November 2, 2022

Many have embraced open source intelligence as the solution to competitive intelligence, law enforcement investigations, and “real” journalists’ data gathering tasks.

For many situations, OSINT as open source intelligence is called, most of those disciplines can benefit. However, as we work on my follow up to monograph to CyberOSINT and the Dark Web Notebook, we have identified some potential blind spots for OSINT enthusiasts.

I want to mention one example of what happens when clever technologists mesh hungry OSINT investigators with some online trickery.

Navigate to privtik.com  (78.142.29.185). At this site you will find:

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But there is a catch, and a not too subtle one:

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The site includes mandatory choices in order to access the “secret” TikTok profile.

How many OSINT investigators use this service? Not too many at this time. However, we have identified other, similar services. Many of these reside on what we call “ghost ISPs.” If you are not aware of these services, that’s not surprising. As the frenzy about the “value” of open source investigations increases, geotag spoofing, fake data, and scams will escalate. What happens if those doing research do not verify what’s provided and the behind the scenes data gathering?

That’s a good question and one that gets little attention in much OSINT training. If you want to see useful OSINT resources, check www.osintfix.com. Each click displays one of the OSINT resources we find interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, November 2, 2022

Open Source Is the Answer. Maybe Not?

October 24, 2022

In my last three lectures, I have amplified and explained what I call the open source frenzy and the concomitant blind spots. One senior law enforcement professional told me after a talk in September 2022, “We’re pushing forward with open source.” To be fair, that’s been the position of many government professionals with whom I have spoken in this year. Open source delivers high value software. Open source provides useful information with metatags. These data can be cross correlated to provide useful insight for investigators. Open source has even made it easier for those following Mr. Putin’s special action to get better information than those in war fighting hot spots.

Open source is the answer.

If you want a reminder about the slippery parts of open source information, navigate to “Thousands of GitHub Repositories Deliver Fake PoC Exploits with Malware.” The write up reports:

According to the technical paper from the researchers at Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science, the possibility of getting infected with malware instead of obtaining a PoC could be as high as 10.3%, excluding proven fakes and prankware.

Not a big deal, right?

Wrong. These data, even if the percentage is adrift, point to a vulnerability caused by the open source cheerleaders.

The write up does a good job of providing examples, which will be incomprehensible to most people. However, the main point of the write up is that open source repositories for software can be swizzled. The software, libraries, executables, and other bits and bobs can put some additional functions in the objects. If that takes place, the vulnerabilities rides along until called upon to perform an unexpected and possibly difficult to identify action.

Cyber security is primarily reactive. Embedded malware can be proactive, particularly if it uses a previously unknown code flaw.

The interesting part of the write up is this passage in my opinion:

The researchers have reported all the malicious repositories they discovered to GitHub, but it will take some time until all of them are reviewed and removed, so many still remain available to the public. As Soufian [a Dark Trace expert] explained, their study aims not just to serve as a one-time cleaning action on GitHub but to act as a trigger to develop an automated solution that could be used to flag malicious instructions in the uploaded code.

The idea of unknown or zero day flaws is apparently not on the radar. What’s this mean in practical terms? A “good enough” set of actions to deal with known issues is not going to be good enough.

This seems to set the stage for a remedial action that does not address the workflows and verification for open source. More significantly, should the focus be on code only?

The answer is, “No.” Think about injecting Fibonacci sequences into certain quantum computer operations. Can injection of crafted numerical strings into automated content processing systems throw a wrench into the works?

The answer to this question is, “Yes.”

Stephen E Arnold, October 24, 2022

Open Source Intelligence: Tool Browsing One at a Time

October 8, 2022

The research team for my forthcoming monograph about the invisible Web uses a number of open source intelligence tools. The problem we are solving is reducing the difficulty associated with learning a new OSINT tool. Whenever you have a moment, click on the OSINTFix button, and take a look at what we consider a useful resource. When you spot a tool you like, just bookmark it.

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I want to point out that one of the popular sections in our lectures is profiles of OSINT tools. One click displays a tool. What do these tools do? Some make it easy to find where an email address been used Others provide domain information. Some make it easy to automate certain queries or making it easier to search Google. There are more than 3,000 tools in our database.

Click on the button, and the service will open a new tab in your browser showing the OSINT tool, software, resource, or service. Note that some tools are not free. Please, notice that there are no ads, no embarrassing Guardian- and Vox-like pleas for for money, and no dark patterns.

Stephen E Arnold, October 10, 2022

Amazon and Open Source: A Me Too Spin on Microsoft and Its Extinguish Tactic?

September 26, 2022

I heard that Amazon — the lovable online bookstore — is thinking about open source software in general and open source search specifically. This is just a hunch, based on comments bandied about in the vendors’ area at a recent law enforcement conference. The attendees may not think much about Amazon as an ecosystem for bad actors but the vendors with whom I talk are:

Aware

Eager to use the AWS platform

Expressing varying degrees of concern.

Were these vendors representative of the cyber security community? Are you kidding? Were the conference attendees a cross section of the more than 100 US enforcement agencies? Nope.

So why do I mention this impression? Three reasons:

  1. Amazon, like Microsoft, provides plumbing for a number of government entities and for some darned interesting cyber security vendors in the US and elsewhere (Hello, Israel?)
  2. The US government is not a cohesive entity. One of the regulatory agencies, which I shall not name, is thinking hard thoughts about the friendly online bookstore. I have heard that third party seller activity (Amazon’s and some seller), Amazon’s human centric management approach, and some of Amazon’s surfing on data generated by resellers, vendors, and possibly home shoppers are topics of interest.
  3. Years ago, Amazon hired some Lucid Imagination open source search professionals and plopped the wizards in the Bezos Bulldozer’s Burlingame office. Evolving from that “lucid” input, the venerable online bookstore engaged in a game of fork you with Elastic, a company associated with the open source Elasticsearch, for fee services, and a digital animal dubbed ELK.

These reasons cause me to recall one of the principal conclusions my team and I formulated when we wrote “Open Source Search Report” for a mid tier consulting firm. (Unsurprisingly the company changed hands and the study was split apart with individual chapters going for $3,000 each on — guess what online bookstore? Give up? It was Amazon.

I reflected on the conclusion in our monograph: Open source is the domain of large corporate entities. Why? Open source was pretty much free and could be changed. Plus, unpaid open source enthusiasts would find and fix software problems.

One of the reasons enterprise search in general and content processing in particular has been a company killer is that search is not an “application.” Search is weirdly personal, and each enterprise search client wanted a system that would work for the many silos within an organizational structure.

The information super highway is littered with search road kill. Many of the names are long forgotten. When was the last time you longer for the francophone centric Delphis or the enterprise powerhouse Entopia?

Why am I thinking about Amazon and open source search?

I read “Open Source Bait and Switch” with the fetching and click magnet subtitle “When OSS advocacy goes too far & corporate greed takes over, free software is used as a tool to destroy competition and hurt the developer community.”

I noted these statements in the article, which is in step with our 2011 research. (Yep, more than a decade ago, which I find interesting.)

let me highlight a couple of statements from the article which arrested my attention this morning (Monday, September 26, 2022).

Take Elastic search. They were open source and killing it. But AWS was forking and not really helping their bottom line. So Elastic changed their license to block AWS. AWS started their own fork. Some people vilify Elastic in this story but those people probably never had to fight Amazon for the survival of their business. In this case, both sides weaponised open source in a business fight.

Also:

I love open source and think it’s remarkably important. That’s why we shouldn’t let corporations weaponize it.

And:

Major corporations use open source as a weapon to fight each other, we seem to benefit in the short term. But as they win the corporate mindset takes over and they double down on control.

What’s shaking at Amazon? Based on my vantage point and my limited viewshed, I will hazard several observations:

  1. Amazon wants to dominate via search and retrieval because it is a utility that is essential for next generate search based applications.
  2. Amazon wants to strike at its competitors, which are estimable organizations obviously, and deprive them of any advantage these firms may be perceived to have when it comes to findability. Could these be great outfits like Google and Microsoft as well as annoying start ups like Algolia and the almost laughable Gulliver of search in Canada as well as an interesting entity morphing as I write this essay? (Want names? Sorry, not in a free blog, you silly goose.)
  3. Amazon lacks imagination, and it is — in my opinion — manifesting the old Microsoft method of embrace, extend, and extinguish. Yep, extinguish. In my view, Amazon is showing other outstanding for profit entities how to attack competitors, community minded open source developers, and users of Amazon AWS simultaneously. None of the “special operation” thinking that has been in the news lately. Amazon is operating strategically and tactically with a single minded purpose. Split up the bookstore and each part will grow bigger than it is today.

Should I worry that my eBook won’t arrive or the French bulldog’s winter coat fail to show up tomorrow? Nah. What about open source, the community thing, the free thing. Yep, worry is good.

Stephen E Arnold, September 26, 2022

Microsoft and Linux: All Your Base Belong to Us

August 9, 2022

Microsoft has traditionally been concerned about Linux and has never hidden its indigestion — until the original top dogs went to the kennel. Microsoft actually hates all open source software and CEO Steve Ballmer said, ““Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.” Wow! It sounds like someone wants to enforce a monopoly on technology, prevent innovation, and rake in dollars for personal gain. In other words, Ballmer is power and greed at its worst. Open source, on the other hand, inspires innovation and sharing technology. The Lunduke Journal of Technology, run by Bryan Lunduke, details his experience with controlling Microsoft heads and how Bill Gates’s company has slowly decimated Linux: “Microsoft’s Growing Control Of Linux.”

Lunduke recounted he heard Ballmer’s hatred for Linux and even had the CEO’s spittle on his face from an open source rage. Microsoft has slowly gained control over important parts of Linux and open source as whole. This includes: GitHub-the largest host of source code in the world, Linux conferences, Linux organizations-Microsoft is a “Premium Sponsor” of the Open Source Initiative and “Platinum Membership on the Linux Foundation, and hired prominent Linux developers.

Here is what Lunduke heard during a past Linux conference:

“During that keynote, the Microsoft executive (John Gossman) made a few statements worth noting:

‘You do not generally want your developers to understand how the licenses all work. If you’re a larger company, you’re very likely to have a problem of controlling all of the open source activity that’s going on … it can be bad for the company, it can be bad for the community, it can be bad lots of different ways.’

You don’t want developers to understand licenses? Not having corporate control of open source is bad? Not exactly pro-open source statements, eh?”

Microsoft does use Linux for Azure and Ubuntu, two products that make the company’s offerings stronger. This Linux thing will be an interesting challenge. MSFT “owns” GitHub. MSFT wants to sell subscriptions and maybe to what does not matter? Open source may be antithetical to MSFT subscriptions. Open source Linux? How about a subscription to MSFT Linux centric solutions?

Now that’s an idea.

Whitney Grace, August 9, 2022

Open Source Software: Is the Golden Age Unwinding?

July 1, 2022

I spotted a modest, probably inconsequential, article called “Tech War: China Doubles Down on Domestic Operating Systems to Cut Reliance on Windows, MacOS from the US.” Two thoughts struck me: First, is “Kylinsoft” pronounced “kill them softly”? Second, with Chinese contributions to open source creeping upwards, will the Kylinsoft thrust gut some useful open source software projects. (I suppose I could ask myself, “Gee, perhaps the clean code goes to the Kylinsoft thrust and the poisoned stuff flows into non-China approved repositories?” I am not going to ask that question. Why would a nation state take such a nefarious approach to the free and open community minded approach to code?)

The write up takes the approach that China wants to be free of non-China software. The future is digital; therefore, a free future requires free software Chinese entities can trust. Also, the article uses the word “war” several times. That’s interesting. A software war fought on free and open source software governed by crystal clear rules of the information superhighway.

What entity is nudging Kylinsoft forward? The write up answers the question this way:

Kylinsoft, a subsidiary of state-owned China Electronics Corp, last week joined forces with more than 10 Chinese entities, including the National Industrial Information Security Development Research Centre, to set up an open-source code community.

Probably no big deal, right? Killin’ ‘em softly with love. A swan song?

Stephen E Arnold, July 1, 2022

ACM Opens Computing Literature Archive

May 30, 2022

The history of computers is fascinating. It starts thousands of years ago with some of history’s brilliant intellects, staggers, and then quickly advances in the twentieth century. We now have humanity’s collected knowledge in the palm of our hands…if the data or Wi-Fi connections work. The Association for Computing Machinery documented the invention of modern computing since 1947 and the organization opened an archive: ACM Digital Library. Associations Now explain why ACM opened its archives in, “‘The Way Things Were’: How The Association For Computing Machinery Is Opening The Doors To Its Archives.”

ACM wants people to realize how far the computing industry has gone and for its seventy-fifth anniversary is opening up its archives to the public. In the past, these records were locked behind a paywall and now they are free to the public. More than 117,500 articles from 1951-2000 are readable to the public. The archive is part of a greater ACM initiative:

“Vicki L. Hanson, the group’s CEO, noted that the ACM Digital Library initiative is part of a broader effort to make its archives available via open access by 2025. ‘Our goal is to have it open in a few years, but there’s very real costs associated with [the open-access work],’ Hanson said. ‘We have models so that we can pay for it. While the organization is still working through its open-access effort, it saw an opportunity to make its “backfile” of materials available, timed to the organization’s 75th anniversary.”

Hanson continued that opening the archive was not a big challenge, because ACM already had a system designed for public consumption. ACM wanted a creative way to announce the archive, so they used its seventy-fifth anniversary.

Organizations need to make money to support their research, but too much scientific information is kept behind paywalls. ACM’s move to share its research is a step more organizations should make.

Whitney Grace, May 30, 2022

On Mitigating Open-Source Vulnerabilities

May 16, 2022

Open-source software has saved countless developers from reinventing the proverbial wheel so they can instead spend their time creating new ways to use existing code. That’s great! Except for one thing: Now that open-source components make up about 90% of most applications, they pose tempting opportunities for hackers. Perhaps the juiciest targets lie in the military and intelligence communities. US counter-terrorism ops rely heavily on the likes of Palantir Technologies, a heavy user of and contributor to open-source software. Another example is the F-35 stealth fighter, which operates using millions of lines of code. A team of writers at War on the Rocks explores “Dependency Issues: Solving the World’s Open-Source Software Security Problem.” Solve it? Completely? Right, and there really is a tooth fairy. The article relates:

“The problem is that the open-source software supply chain can introduce unknown, possibly intentional, security weaknesses. One previous analysis of all publicly reported software supply chain compromises revealed that the majority of malicious attacks targeted open-source software. In other words, headline-grabbing software supply-chain attacks on proprietary software, like SolarWinds, actually constitute the minority of cases. As a result, stopping attacks is now difficult because of the immense complexity of the modern software dependency tree: components that depend on other components that depend on other components ad infinitum. Knowing what vulnerabilities are in your software is a full-time and nearly impossible job for software developers.”

So true. Still, writers John Speed Meyers, Zack Newman, Tom Pike, and Jacqueline Kazil sound optimistic as they continue:

“Fortunately, there is hope. We recommend three steps that software producers and government regulators can take to make open-source software more secure. First, producers and consumers should embrace software transparency, creating an auditable ecosystem where software is not simply mysterious blobs passed over a network connection. Second, software builders and consumers ought to adopt software integrity and analysis tools to enable informed supply chain risk management. Third, government reforms can help reduce the number and impact of open-source software compromises.”

The article describes each part of this plan in detail. It also does a good job explaining how we got so dependent on open-source software and describes ways hackers are able to leverage it. The writers submits that, by following these suggestions, entities both public and private can safely continue to benefit from open-source collaboration. If the ecosystem is made even a bit safer, we suppose that is better than nothing. After all, ditching open-source altogether seems nigh impossible at this point.

Cynthia Murrell, May 16, 2022

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