U.S. Gov�t Software Creates �Fake People� to Spread Message via Social Networking
The Blaze (Link) - Meredith Jessup (February 18, 2011)
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 at FedBizOpps.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.
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.�
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.
�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?
�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.