Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why Is the Government Creating an Army of Fake People on the Internet? We Know.


U.S. Gov‘t Software Creates ’Fake People’ to Spread Message via Social Networking

Whenever I shop on the internet, I skip right over the positive reviews of products and go straight for the bad ones, figuring the company probably paid some hack to sit and create fictional names and post fake glowing five-star reviews for their products to dupe unsuspecting customers.  But what if the federal government could operate this way?


What if the government had the ability to pass its own information through false mediums to unsuspecting citizens?

The U.S. government recently offered private intelligence companies contracts to create special software to it help manage a number of “fake” profiles on social media websites.

The contract opportunity (PDF) — posted last summer atFedBizOpps.gov — actually calls for the development of an “Online Persona Management Service” for the U.S. Air Force, a software that would help a single user manage a variety of distinct fake profiles online. According to the contract proposal, the software could be deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there is no guarantee it would not be used domestically as well.

Why is this only now coming to light?

Recently leaked** email files from the private security firm HBGary reveal internal discussions of how one person could use the software to create an army of fake profiles.  In essence, it allows a small group of people to appear to be many.

According to the contract, the software would enable the government to shield its fake identity by employing a number of false signals to make it appear that the profile belongs to a real person. Additionally, software technicians could manipulate unique IP addresses to make it look like the profile originated from anywhere around the globe.

“A single user could manage unique background information and status updates for up to 10 fake people from a single computer,” The Enquirer notes.

Included in the leaked emails was a specific proposal on how to use Facebook to spread government messages.

“Those names can be cross-referenced across Facebook, twitter, MySpace, and other social media services to collect information on each individual. Once enough information is collected this information can be used to gain access to these individuals social circles. …

Even the most restrictive and security conscious of persons can be exploited. Through the targeting and information reconnaissance phase, a person’s hometown and high school will be revealed. An adversary can create a classmates.com account at the same high school and year and find out people you went to high school with that do not have Facebook accounts, then create the account and send a friend request.

Under the mutual friend decision, which is where most people can be exploited, an adversary can look at a targets friend list if it is exposed and find a targets most socially promiscuous friends, the ones that have over 300-500 friends, friend them to develop mutual friends before sending a friend request to the target. To that end friend’s accounts can be compromised and used to post malicious material to a targets wall. When choosing to participate in social media an individual is only as protected as his/her weakest friend.”

The leaked emails also include messages from sister company HBGary Federal’s CEO Aaron Barr saying, “There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas… Using hashtags and gaming some location based check-in services we can make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise, as one example.”


[Related RedactedNews]


Additional emails sent back-and-forth among HBGary employees also shed disturbing light on how the software could be manipulated to infiltrate groups, data mine, and even bombard discussion sites with orchestrated government messages — a.k.a. propaganda.


One employee wrote, “and now social networks are closing the gap between attacker and victim, to the point I just found (via linked-in) 112 females, wives of service men, all stationed at Hurlbert Field FL – in case you don’t know this is where the CIA flies all their “private” airlines out of. What a damn joke – the U.S. is no longer the super power in cyber, and probably won’t be in other areas soon.”


Barr also predicted a steady rise in clandestine or secret government operations to stem the flow of sensitive information. “I would say there is going to be a resurgence of black ops in the coming year as decision makers settle with our inadequacies… Critical infrastructure, finance, defense industrial base, and government have rivers of unauthorized communications flowing from them and there are no real efforts to stop it.”



“I don’t know about you, but this concerns me greatly,” Daily Kos blogger Happy Rockefeller writes.  “It goes far beyond the mere ability for a government stooge, corporation or PR firm to hire people to post on sites like this one. They are talking about creating the illusion of consensus. And consensus is a powerful persuader.”

Gawker’s Adrian Chen asks: Why is the military creating an army of fake people on the internet?

The request was for 50 licenses, which means the Air Force hoped to create up to 500 fake Internet people. The request was filled in June, which means these fake people could be roaming the ‘net right now.


“WTF Dude?” one HBGary employee emailed to another.  “This is posted on open source.  Are you f***ing serious?”

Apparently this type of government contract is generally negotiated behind closed doors.

Given the importance of social media nowadays — namely the influence the networking sites have had on organizing protests and spreading information — this kind of technology could potentially become a very powerful social weapon.

—————–

**The emails were reportedly leaked by Anonymous, one of the world’s most notorious underground hacking groups.  Recently, the group caught national attention after hacking sites of companies which cut off ties to the online site WikiLeaks.  Anonymous also revealed that HBGary colluded with Bank of America in a plot to disrupt WikiLeaks.  As a result, a number of security firms have cut ties with HBGary.

“Anonymous used to be all about disrupting the Web sites of companies that helped block WikiLeaks’ funding. Now it’s starting to act like WikiLeaks itself,” Forbes recently noted.

Source: http://theuniversalseduction.com/articles/us-gov-t-software-creates-fake-people-to-spread-message-via-social-networking

Revealed: Air Force ordered software to manage army of fake virtual people
Raw Story Update (below): HBGary Federal among bidders

These days, with Facebook and Twitter and social media galore, it can be increasingly hard to tell who your "friends" are.

But after this, Internet users would be well advised to ask another question entirely: Are my "friends" even real people?

In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online "personas," allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they'd like.

The revelation was among those contained in the company's emails, which were dumped onto bittorrent networks after hackers with cyber protest group "Anonymous" broke into their systems.

In another document unearthed by "Anonymous," one of HBGary's employees also mentioned gaming geolocation services to make it appear as though selected fake persons were at actual events.

"There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas," it said.

Government involvement
Eerie as that may be, more perplexing, however, is a federal contract from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of "persona management software."

While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple "official" social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.

Unfortunately, the Air Force's contract description doesn't help dispel suspicions. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be "replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent."

It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator's Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it's a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.

The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server's "geosite" to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.

The Air Force added that the "place of performance" for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.

It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.

Manufacturing consent
Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. "Persona management software" can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual "people" could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.

You could call it a virtual flash mob, or a digital "Brooks Brothers Riot," so to speak: compelling, but not nearly as spontaneous as it appears.

That's precisely what got DailyKos blogger Happy Rockefeller in a snit: the potential for military-run armies of fake people manipulating and, in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.

"I don't know about you, but it matters to me what fellow progressives think," the blogger wrote. "I consider all views. And if there appears to be a consensus that some reporter isn't credible, for example, or some candidate for congress in another state can't be trusted, I won't base my entire judgment on it, but it carries some weight.

"That's me. I believe there are many people though who will base their judgment on rumors and mob attacks. And for those people, a fake mob can be really effective."

It was Rockefeller who was first to highlight the Air Force's "persona" contract, which was available on a public website.

A call to MacDill Air Force Base, requesting an explanation of the contract and what this software might be used for, was answered by a public affairs officer who promised a call-back. No reply was received at time of this story's publication.

Other e-mails circulated by HBGary's CEO illuminate highly personal data about critics of the US Chamber of Commerce, including detailed information about their spouses and children, as well as their locations and professional links. The firm, it was revealed, was just one part of a group called "Team Themis," tasked by the Chamber to come up with strategies for responding to progressive bloggers and others.

"Team Themis" also included a proposal to use malware hacks against progressive organizations, and the submission of fake documents in an effort to discredit established groups.

HBGary was also behind a plot by Bank of America to destroy WikiLeaks' technology platform, other emails revealed. The company was humiliated by members of "Anonymous" after CEO Aaron Barr bragged that he'd "infiltrated" the group.

A request for comment emailed to HBGary did not receive a reply.

Update: HBGary Federal among bidders
A list of interested vendors responding to the Air Force contract for "persona management software" included HBGary subsideary HBGary Federal, further analysis of a government website has revealed.

Other companies that offered their services included Global Business Solutions and Associates LLC, Uk Plus Logistics, Ltd., NevinTelecom, Bunker Communications and Planmatrix LLC.

Source: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/02/18/revealed-air-force-ordered-software-to-manage-army-of-fake-virtual-people/


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