Tag Archives: social networking

The Big Diggers: What DARPA and Stanford Have in Common

Cuthbert_Goes_Digging_Cassette_Cover. Image from wikipedia

Backed by a $5.6 million grant from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a  team at Stanford is embarking on a four-year project to better understand and model complex communication patterns in social networks in real time…The new project is called MEGA: Modern Graph Analysis for Dynamic Networks, and is led by Associate Professor Ashish Goel.   A team of seven principal investigators… will develop algorithms which model human communication and detect subtle patterns in huge data sets from social media.

DARPA is interested because, from a national security standpoint, big data holds the promise of recognizing threats in unusual or suspicious social interactions of terrorists and other foreign adversaries.   Our daily social communication is spread across many forms of interaction. E-mails, tweets, text messages and Facebook posts define our modern social lives. More than ever, information about this correspondence and behavior can be collected, stored, and made available to computer scientists.With access to billions of tweets, e-mails and text messages, a project like MEGA can build reliable mathematical models of social phenomena, like the way news spreads through a network for instance, or even how people choose their social connections, Goel said.

One goal of the MEGA project is to model human online behavior and find how it shapes social networks… The second component of MEGA’s research: writing the step-by-step procedures for processing distributed data in real time….Some of their algorithms and programs will be passed directly to DARPA to be used in a security context…

Excerpt, DARPA Grant Will Help Stanford Dig Deep into the Big Data in Social Networks, Stanford.edu, April 24, 2013

No Need for Eavesdropping: Free Speech and DARPA

Watching your Internet Fingerprint

Happy Hacking: Anonymous and Booz Allen

ANONYMOUS, a group of “hacktivist” computer-attackers, has already speared some big fish: credit-card companies, the church of Scientology and Monsanto, a biotechnology firm. Its latest victim is Booz Allen Hamilton, a big consulting firm that advises America’s government on cybersecurity.  The group opposes Booz Allen’s work for the government in the fight against terrorism. This included an alleged plan to fill social-networking sites with “sock puppets”—fake commenters who would spread disinformation. The hackers responded by stealing from Booz Allen what they say are 90,000 military e-mail addresses and passwords.

Booz Allen does not seem to have done its homework—which is embarrassing for a security contractor working with classified materials. Critics say that it did not protect its servers sufficiently and used algorithms to encrypt data that can be easily cracked. The firm is also said to have left its databases open to “SQL injection”, a means of inserting malicious code. Anonymous says that the server it targeted “basically had no security measures in place”.

Excerpt, Cybersecurity, Hacked off, Economist, July 16, 2011, at 69

Ongoing Violations of Human Rights:how to use Google to suppress freedom

Facebook and other social media services have created opportunities for dissidents and revolutionaries to organise and voice their opposition. But those in power have discovered that they, too, can use the internet, in their case to stifle freedom of speech. The dream of all dictators is to know as much about you as Google does, says Jacob Mchangama, a Danish human-rights lawyer.

Authoritarian states have also learned how to use the language of human rights to legitimise their oppressive tactics, for instance by claiming to defend religious groups. But their tools of abuse—violence, torture and censorship—remain depressingly familiar. The grand tradition of making opponents “disappear,” perfected by the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s, is still flourishing today. In Bahrain doctors and nurses who treated protesters injured by security forces have vanished. Also in Bahrain, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the former head of the Centre for Human Rights and a fierce critic of the regime, was seized by armed men in the middle of the night. A month later he reappeared, tortured and is now facing trial.

Post-revolutionary leaders can find it all too easy to slip into the abusive habits of their predecessors. In Oslo Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian blogger, talked of her fear that the transitional government will use the methods of the ousted regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. When fresh demonstrations broke out in Tunisia in early May, police used tear gas and live ammunition. Journalists were beaten and had their equipment seized.

Nor do governments have a monopoly on violence. From Jamaica to South Africa, gays and lesbians continue to be the victims of vicious intolerance. Lesbians are raped in an effort to “correct” their sexuality. At the Oslo conference the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, the first group of its kind on the Caribbean island, said it was remarkable that only one of its founders had been murdered in the past decade, such is the violence typically directed at its people.

Yet there was also brighter news in Oslo. As those in power become more inventive in their clampdowns, so do their opponents. Some have started to help victims make their experiences public. In Malawi children who have been raped or forced into marriage are encouraged to write letters to Radio Timweni, a national news programme, which then interviews them. In the age of Facebook and Google, the truth remains the most powerful weapon of all.

Excerpt, Human-rights abuses: Nothing new under the sun, Economist, May 14, 2011, at 76

Social Networking in the Fight against Terrorism

In the Netherlands, the jailhouse recantation of a convicted terrorist renouncing violence has circulated online. Counterterrorism officials say it could make disaffected youth think twice about joining violent extremist ranks.In Pakistan, the authorities are posting on YouTube gruesome videos of mosques bombed by Islamic extremists, to show that such attacks kill fellow Muslims.  And here in Saudi Arabia, a government-supported program has enlisted hundreds of Islamic scholars turned bloggers to fight online radicalization by challenging the interpretations of the Koran posted on extremist social networking forums.

In recent years, governments and allied grass-roots advocacy groups had largely ceded cyberspace to extremists, who use the Internet to recruit, raise money, spread their ideology and disseminate instructions on bomb-making and other terrorist techniques. Governments have carried out covert operations to undermine or take down extremist Web sites, but many pop back within days or weeks.

Now these governments, often working with international organizations like the United Nations and European Union, and more quietly with private or nonprofit groups, are opening a counterattack to try to undermine the appeal of terrorists, expose their lack of legitimacy, and attack the credibility of their ideology and online messengers.

Counterterrorism officials from more than 30 countries met here last week under the auspices of the United Nations and Naif Arab University to share tactics and strategies on how to use the Internet to counter the appeal of extremist violence.  “The terrorist message, for all its deviancy and destructiveness, has gone unchallenged for too long,” said Richard Barrett, a conference organizer who heads a United Nations office that monitors sanctions on Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Many of these efforts to counter violent extremism on the Web are just getting off the ground. In some cases, small local initiatives are having success, and could find wider use globally, but many others have foundered.  Officials measuring the campaigns acknowledge that finding the right messengers — from extremists who have renounced their pasts to Pakistani cricket stars who presumably have wide appeal among the youth solicited by both sides — is as important as tailoring messages about the issues that attract people to violent extremism.

There are signs that the new campaigns may be having at least a temporary impact. Evan F. Kohlmann, who tracks militant Web sites at the security consulting firm Flashpoint Global Partners, said a growing number of extremist forums are using password-protected sites to thwart hackers and dissenters.  Counterterrorism officials acknowledge the challenge in coming up with an effective counter to Al Qaeda’s simple but powerful narrative: that the United States and the West are at war with Islam; that Muslims are unjustly discriminated against and persecuted; and that only violent action can bring change.  “Communicating on the Internet leads to a virtual ideological ghetto of like-minded jihadists,” said Wil Van Gemert, a senior counterterrorism official in the Dutch Interior Ministry.

Sidney Jones, an expert on Islamic terrorism at the International Crisis Group’s branch in Jakarta, said a 6,000-word critique of an Indonesian extremist group posted on several radical Web sites last March offered insights that could be used in broader counter-radicalization campaigns. The critique was disseminated after the Indonesian counterterrorism police raided an extremist training camp in Aceh, in northern Sumatra.  “It argued that by running off to the jungle with guns and losing so many of its members, the movement was depleting its own resources and undermining its prospects for victory,” Ms. Jones wrote in a paper for the conference here.

Without credible messengers, however, even the most effective message will fail, counterterrorism experts say.  In Saudi Arabia, the independent, nongovernmental Sakinah campaign, supported by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, uses Islamic scholars who oppose terrorism to interact online with seekers of religious knowledge.  This approach is turning up elsewhere. “We need to use the Koran to persuade others,” said Hamoud al-Hitar, Yemen’s minister of religious endowment and Islamic affairs, whose program results have been mixed.

In the Netherlands, counterterrorism officials hailed a letter written last November from jail by the convicted terrorist Jason Walters, who called on his brethren to abandon violence. Mr. Walters, formerly of the Hofstad Group, an organization of Islamists largely of Moroccan origin, had been convicted in 2006 for wounding four police officers in a grenade attack while resisting arrest two years earlier.

The United States government has struggled in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to develop an effective campaign to counter the ideology and messages of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups. In one measure, the State Department is overhauling and expanding its digital response teams that counter violent extremist messages.  Mr. Kohlmann of Flashpoint Global Partners said, “The problem is, you don’t have people in the U.S. government who are of the right generation to understand how social networking works, and at the same time who are knowledgeable enough about the Muslim world.”

ERIC SCHMITT, Governments Go Online in Fight Against Terrorism, NY Times, January 31, 2011, at A5