Governments are increasing cyber security on social media

Pierluigi Paganini August 01, 2012

Many experts are sure, the new horizons of intelligence are in the social media and in the ability to control them. Governments are more careful on the analysis of social media and the vast amount of information which they hold.

Intelligence agencies have learned that Social networks and forums are exceptional instruments for information gathering and to measure the global sentiment on every kind of argument, political as social.

Last Week the Intelligence community veterans said at a panel discussion on open-source intelligence hosted by Government Executive.

“We take a large look at the world and see if there’s a surprise out there,”

said Patrick O’Neil, analytic director of the Open Source Center for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“We’re trying to avoid a surprise.”

O’Neil with his words highlights the great importance that intelligence community assigns to the social media and to the open source intelligence, they offer a vantage point of today’s society.

The new way to make intelligence is considered in opposition with the previous methodologies, today intelligence is primary based on open source intelligence contrary to the past when the intelligence was based on clandestine sources.

But is it true?

The social media are for sure a great component in today open source but if through complex method of analysis it is possible gather a huge quantity of data their elaboration is not so simple. We must consider that due the possibility of pollution of the sources by the same intelligence agencies the information could haven’t the proper level of reliability.

Despite the high interest in social media some experts show very cautious, it’s the case of Craig Parisot, chief operating officer at Invertix a firm specialized in data mining innovations, that said:

“There are adopters of technology but that doesn’t mean they carry the voice of a nation or an entire populous,”

It has been estimated that only 20 percent of the world’s population uses social media, that produce a huge quantity of information that creates several problems for its analysis.

The events have demonstrated the great importance of social media as communication vector, as expression of dissents, let’s think to their role in the organization of protest during the Arab spring. The social media could provide key indicators on the real situation in entire region of planet such as the Middle East.

According DARPA’s representatives:

“Social media have evolved from a platform that provides infrastructure that supports maintaining connections between friends to a platform that supports recruiting, collaborating, organizing and competing for resources… Among these communities and teams are terrorist and other criminal organizations,”

“The impact of these teams on the social landscape, their interactions with other teams, the evolution of network state over time, and competition with other teams and communities has not been adequately researched. Due to the overwhelming deluge of data generated by users across social media platforms, this analysis cannot be done manually.”

“While collaborations in social media have been researched extensively, little attention has been paid to how the groups compete with each other for members and influence on opinions of other teams and communities,”

“Understanding what affects such online behavior is needed for trend forecasting.”

Analyzing the networks is possible to track detailed profile of any users, his relationships and his habits, the possibility to exercise the control of social networks is an actual form of power, the power of knowledge.

FBI is one of the most active agency, in the last months it has publicly requested the design of a real time monitor for social network that have to be able to identify suspect behaviors that could be interpreted as indicator of presence for an ongoing crime, it seems that it is working to obtain a sort of backdoor in main social networks like Facebook and also in most used communication platforms such as Skype and Instant Messaging. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is interested to a backdoor for government surveillance, for this reason it is collaborating  with companies like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo.

In February 2011, CNET reported that then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni was planning to warn Congress of what the bureau calls its “Going Dark” problem, illustrating how the wiretapping capabilities were being reduced with the progress of technology.

Caproni singled out “Web-based e-mail, social-networking sites, and peer-to-peer communications” as problems that have left the FBI “increasingly unable” to conduct the same kind of wiretapping it could in the past.

“Going Dark” is the FBI’s codename for a massive surveillance project to extend the ability of the agency to real time wiretap communications, it is born inside the bureau, employing 107 full-time expert starting from 2009.

Which are law enforcement today’s capabilities?

According the declaration of Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Kevin Bankston FBI already can intercept messages on social-networking sites and Web-based e-mail services, the system used is known as Carnivore, later renamed DCS1000.

The FBI has trying to maintain maximum reserve on the Unit called the Domestic Communications Assistance Center, for which the Senate committee has already allocated $54 million assigning to it the mission to create technologies for law enforcement to intercept and analyze communications data.

The power conferred to the unit is wide, every single communication through social networks and over internet in general should be intercepted by the hardware platforms and software applications that the unit have to implement.

But Social Media could also be used to monitor dissents, government repressions as happened in Syria, and any kind of meaningful social event and their geographical location.

“It doesn’t [necessarily] tell you what’s happening,” O’Neil said, “but it tells you where to look.”

NSA also is massive investing in monitoring technology, a couple of months ago we have learned that the agency is building the country’s biggest Spy Center in the little known city of Bluffdale. The center, named Utah Data Center is under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances.

Its purpose is to intercept, decipher, analyze every world’s communications under investigation using every kind of transmission.  The center will have a final cost of $2 billion and should be operative in September 2013. Its databases will be store all forms of communication, including the complete private emails, cell phone calls, search engine researches and every kind of digital data related to every individual.

The imperative is to monitor everything!

It’s clear the dimension of the project that has the purpose to cover monitoring need of every type includind of course satellite communication, phone calls, computer data and geostationary satellite data.

Once the Data Center it’s operational it will be fed data collected by the agency’s eavesdropping satellites, overseas listening posts, and secret monitoring rooms in telecom facilities throughout the US. All that data will then be accessible to the NSA’s code breakers, data-miners, China analysts, counterterrorism specialists, and others working at its Fort Meade headquarters and around the world.

The Defense Department is promoting the development of new generation of tools that will better track postings and interactions on social media for a “broad range of tactical as well as strategic military operations,”.

According a communication provided by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon is searching for software that will automatically sift social media platforms being able to collect and analyze the data posted by their customers.

The great effort that US Government intend to spend is motivated by the failure of used methodologies since today in the tracking of social media, the agency are searching for applications that implements new sophisticated search engines able to identify data related to cyber terrorism and cybercrime.

Another factor that must be considered is the great dynamism of the people that uses social media, each individual is usual to go round with several networks and with different profiles making harder the cross analysis.

To make hard the analisys of social media is the increasing awareness of users in the monitoring activities. An incresing number of individual is searching for privacy or for else the way to avoid a control.

Anonymity is the watchword!

For this reason network such as Tor and in the general the Deep Web have are seeing a growing interest, also in the hidden web in fact are growing new services similar to the one presents on the clear web, social network platforms and forums are populating also the dark side of internet.

But the intelligence is aware of the trend to use anonymizer networks, due this reason they are also trying to massively infiltrate deep web. There are also many ongoing project that track the use of the network and some of the most famous hidden services provided with communication intent. Despite in the hidden web is much more harder to track a single individual, analyzing a huge quantity of conversations on the social media platforms is possible to perform intelligence researches on many critical topics.

One of the main proble related to surveillance systems is the safekeeping of the collected data, let’s image their value and the great appeal they have for foreign governments and hackers.

Who and how will manage the acquired data?

The line between monitoring and censorship is thin and we have observed in several countries questionable behavior approaching this kind of information.

What would happen if a hostile government or group of cyber criminals could exploit this mine of data?

It would be an unprecedented disaster. The problem therefore lies in the ability to manage such a critical feature, this issue is extremely complex.
Are we ready to address these issues? I’m afraid not, unfortunately

Are we willing to compromise in the name of security? We are ready to give up our privacy?

Do not worry … someone has already replied for you!

Pierluigi Paganini

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