October 26, 2009

A Second Life for Twittering Spies

Posted in Best practices, Courts and social media, Criminal activity, Productivity, Social Media Tools tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:46 pm by bizlawblog

Social networking is apparently taking on a second life, no put intended. Social networks are obviously fertile resources for spies of all sorts. In fact, Noah Shachtman reports, in an article for Wired Danger Room:

America’s spy agencies want to read your blog posts, keep track of your Twitter updates — even check out your book reviews on Amazon.

In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA and the wider intelligence community, is putting cash into Visible Technologies, a software firm that specializes in monitoring social media. It’s part of a larger movement within the spy services to get better at using ”open source intelligence” — information that’s publicly available, but often hidden in the flood of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports generated every day.

U.S. Spies Buy Stake in Firm That Monitors Blogs, Tweets

One must ask, is it a good thing that government agencies, such as the CIA, are possibly monitoring the social media networks that seem to be rapidly replacing other channels as our primary method of communication? Part of the answer may come from another article by Shachtman:

Could Twitter become terrorists’ newest killer app? A draft Army intelligence report, making its way through spy circles, thinks the miniature messaging software could be used as an effective tool for coordinating militant attacks.

For years, American analysts have been concerned that militants would take advantage of commercial hardware and software to help plan and carry out their strikes. Everything from online games to remote-controlled toys to social network sites to garage door openers has been fingered as possible tools for mayhem.

This recent presentation — put together on the Army’s 304th Military Intelligence Battalion and found on the Federation of the American Scientists website — focuses on some of the newer applications for mobile phones: digital maps, GPS locators, photo swappers, and Twitter mash-ups of it all.

Spy Fears: Twitter Terrorists, Cell Phone Jihadists

Ken Monro, however, shows us another side of the impact of social networking on spies. In his article for SC Magazine, he gives us all a lesson about  what we post online. We know that colleges, employers, and many others regularly look for facebook or LinkedIn profile information before making decisions important in our lives. Typically, we don’t even know just how much they know about us before reviewing that key application for college, making a hiring decision, or attending an important business meeting with us.

For spies, this can be a life and death situation. Monro’s article even points out:

…if you’re planning on having a second identity for undercover work, it doesn’t help if your photos, friends and real name are splattered all over various social networking sites. Try finding a student at a university who hasn’t done just that.

The UK’s intelligence agencies are worried. From schoolchildren on Bebo, through Facebook-obsessed young professionals, to well-networked CEOs on LinkedIn, having an online presence is a must in this day and age. But with the explosion of social networking sites, it has become virtually impossible to find recruits who don’t have some sort of an online trail.

Pandora’s box is well and truly opened, so how do you go about suppressing your online identity?

Social networking websites make recruiting spies difficult

Let’s add another twist to this. How do spies, or anyone else for that matter, know what is real when they snoop online? Spies are, of course, trained professionals and are presumably much better at this than the average college admission office employee or Fortune 500 employer. On hand, how do we know what a potential business partner, banker, or friend might pick up about us online?

What do we even know about our current president? The title of Jason Linkin’s recent Huffington Post article, Fake Obama Thesis Story Goes Viral, Because Of Stupidity, could give us a clue.

We know many companies are under siege from disgruntled employees and competitors, sometimes without even knowing it. Faked reports about a company’s customer service or product reliability, represent an increasing form of commercial terrorism, often communicated via blogs and other forms of social media. Social media infringement on intellectual property rights appears rampant, with defensive tools lagging well behind those used by the abusers. If you don’t believe it, check out Willis Wee’s article, 10 Brands Claimed By Twitter Cybersquatters.

Where is all this leading? Keep reading. Tracking that is a primary reason for this blog.

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.