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Air Force Wants Hundreds of Fake Online Identities 124

Posted by timothy
from the for-great-justice-or-a-bad-simulation dept.
bizwriter writes "Bad enough that spammers are creating fake Facebook accounts that acquire connections with unsuspecting people, then inundate them with crap. Now, the US military wants software and services to manage upwards of 500 fake online personas designed to interact with social media, presumably including such sites as Facebook and Twitter."
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Air Force Wants Hundreds of Fake Online Identities

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  • It's not like they're trying to scam you like spammers. More than anything this is a good thing so normal people can use fake identities with social networks too.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 19, 2011 @05:12AM (#35252864)

      It's worse than spam. It's coordinated government propaganda on a large scale...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765)

        Exactly, it is. But who doesn't have a fake facebook account ?

        I have 2, for personal use (so that facebook leaves me alone with game "announcements" in my serious mailboxes). Am I alone ? And I'm not even in Sales.

        In my company's sales team most everybody has at least a "commercial" and a private account. That means our company "has" euhm ... a dozen facebook accounts perhaps, something like that. You could call it "astroturfing" probably, because it kinda is. Everybody does it.

        Another storm in a glass of w

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Propaganda is used to extract compliance and MONEY. I dont like my own money being used against me and my fellows to extract even more money.

          • by bjwest (14070)

            What?!? I think you need to look up that definition [wikimedia.org] again.

          • Propaganda is used to extract compliance and MONEY

            So is facebook. Why are you so forgiving when your own girlfriend pictures being used to extract money and compliance from you and your friends ? If you don't do that, there's no problem at all.

        • by emm-tee (23371) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @08:24AM (#35253312)

          Exactly, it is. But who doesn't have a fake facebook account ?

          Logic failure. Just because you have one account for social use and one for business, one of which you could call "fake", and you consider that "okay", doesn't suddenly mean that you have to accept that all fake Facebook accounts have to be "okay". Fake accounts for the purposes of astroturfing or propaganda are definitely not okay.

          In my company's sales team most everybody has at least a "commercial" and a private account. That means our company "has" euhm ... a dozen facebook accounts perhaps, something like that. You could call it "astroturfing" probably, because it kinda is. Everybody does it.

          Just because some of your peers do it doesn't necessarily make it okay. http://news.slashdot.org/story/09/07/15/1351204/Internet-Astroturfer-Fined-300000 [slashdot.org]

          • by Thing 1 (178996)

            Exactly, it is. But who doesn't have a fake facebook account ?

            Logic failure. Just because you have one account for social use and one for business, one of which you could call "fake", and you consider that "okay", doesn't suddenly mean that you have to accept that all fake Facebook accounts have to be "okay". Fake accounts for the purposes of astroturfing or propaganda are definitely not okay.

            Exactly. It's one thing to create fake identities to sell shit, it's a completely different activity to create fake identities to kill people. (But who am I kidding? Our government has been doing that for decades.)

        • by jc42 (318812) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @09:39PM (#35257310) Homepage Journal

          Exactly, it is. But who doesn't have a fake facebook account ?

          Actually, the usage being described (separate "serious" and "game" account names) is an old tradition. With actors, they're called "stage names"; with writers they're called "pen names", etc. It's also common in English-speaking and some other societies for married women with professional careers to use their "maiden name" professionally and their married name socially.

          These are all recognized by law in most countries as legitimate cases of multiple public identities. The reason is the same: People everywhere tend to pigeonhole you by your name. So if you want to have several independent roles, you need several names.

          This is especially common for writers and actors, for well-known reasons. If you make a name for yourself as a comedian or comedy writer, your serious efforts won't be taken seriously. The only solution is to do them under a different name. This is why, for instance, the mathematician Charles Dodgson published his childrens' stories under the name Lewis Carroll. If he'd published them as written by Charles Dodgson, nobody would have taken his mathematical or other writing seriously.

          An example that a lot of people here may appreciate: Many of the well-known science-fiction authors are pen names. The reason is that if you become a successful sci-fi writer, publishers will refuse to publish anything else you write. Once your name is associated with sci-fi, it discredits everything else you write. But this isn't just a sci-fi problem; it applies to nearly every writer who wants to publish in two or more different categories.

          For actors, type-casting is a well-known phenomenon. They also have the problem of being celebrities, meaning constant harassment by fans, paparazzi, etc. Using stage names is a very sensible solution to these problems.

          It shouldn't be surprising that people would learn the same lesson online, and create multiple identities for different topics that they're interested in. The same pigeonholing has developed very strongly online, and all the old reasons for multiple identities applies here. It's encouraged by the way that so many web sites have rules for acceptable names. I prefer the id "jc", but that was already taken here, so I added two digits that would be meaningful to most /. readers. Other forums forbid 2-char names entirely, so I'm forced to add characters for them. This is a somewhat silly way to get multiple online identities, but web-site culture doesn't allow me to have a single online identity. So I shrug, and keep a list of them, indexed by domain name.

        • by h00manist (800926)

          That means our company "has" euhm ... a dozen facebook accounts perhaps, something like that. You could call it "astroturfing" probably, because it kinda is. Everybody does it.

          It's the flip side of anonymity. Lots of lies, since everyone gets to hide their face.

      • by dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @08:29AM (#35253322)

        It's worse than spam. It's coordinated government propaganda on a large scale...

        And even worse, it is not the government, it is an unelected body of the executive branch, hopefully controlled by the government.

        If they want to take part in the public debate, they should do it in an open fashion.

        But also for their own well being: what if after some years information about these secret dealings get (wiki)leaked? Political interventions by the military are symptoms of a dictatorship.

      • Propaganda is a menu of dogma-tarts for salivating idiots, all seeking to bake-people and eat ash.

        DoD-GO, C*O, globally politicians...clergy some are good and most are bad. The way to tell is listen for any dogma.

        Sadly, the salivating idiots and fearful majority only know how to irrationally and dangerously regurgitate dogma upon US, EU, RU....

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not possible, it would violate Facebooks EULA.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      They're not scamming you like spammers. They're trying to scam you about 1000000 times more than spammers. (Just look at how much money goes into each organization.)

    • It's not like they're trying to scam you like spammers. More than anything this is a good thing so normal people can use fake identities with social networks too.

      Nope, I'm sure their intentions are pure ... just like the movie studios who do this [slashdot.org]

    • Sure they're scammers. Normal scammers try to trick you into signing a contract to give them money. Of course, they have no recourse if you sign the contract and then don't pay them, since they're breaking the law anyway. The U.S. Military wants to trick you into signing a contract to give them your life. If they succeed and you try to reneg, they can imprison or execute you (try finding that clause in any other employment contract).

      Of course they're scammers, their primary targets are the young and weak-mi
  • You know, like @Area51 or a Facebook page for The Marines or whatever. This is what organisations do.

  • The funniest thing is that this document wasn't classified (not that THAT means anything these days :P)
    • Wait, these aren't explicitly false identities? This is normal stuff then, with the only shocking thing being the sheer number...
  • by operator_error (1363139) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @05:16AM (#35252872)

    There's an article about that at arstechnica. It seems the air force can dial up a company called HBGary to purchase such account services, presumably using an analog line and PSTN number in order to reach HBGary. Still, I wouldn't bet that even the phone is operational.

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/02/black-ops-how-hbgary-wrote-backdoors-and-rootkits-for-the-government.ars [arstechnica.com]

    In June 2010, the government was expressing real interest in social networks. The Air Force issued a public request for "persona management software," which might sound boring until you realize that the government essentially wanted the ability to have one agent run multiple social media accounts at once.

    • by miruku (642921)

      Here [dailykos.com]'s a DailyKos post on the same subject.

    • It seems the air force can dial up a company called HBGary to purchase such account services

      Yeah I hear they are the go-to guys for Internet security issues.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So after the Egyptian rioting the US feels a need to keep a close eye on public communications being posted on through social networks? What are they going to do with it is the question. Do they simply want to be aware of what political public climate changeos are occurring or will the power become abused as they start pulling down accounts that post links to politically sensitive issues they'd rather not have spread around.

  • Why not just talk to NSA?
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      The NSA would watch your site, you would get a lot of hits from strange bots, front .coms, networks, contractors.
      Other more clean teams would then jump in and try and shape, misdirect, milk, discredit or form long term friendships.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    If somebody with no personality "friends" you, then you know he is a government agent. Just like the guy at the G-twenty summit in Toronto who carried a sign saying "Down with the Oil Sands" was an obvious right winger with the police force, and just like Aaron Barr was found out by Anonymous long before he bragged about "exposing" them. These people are too "smart" for their own good.

    Maybe instead of trying to harass people they should try to make the world a better place. Like for example instead of the U

    • All they need is a fake profile generator. It wouldn't be that hard. Just populate it with random trivia and inane rubbish, throw in some facebook games. Who would notice?
  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Saturday February 19, 2011 @05:49AM (#35252968) Homepage

    Try reading the facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities [facebook.com], By using or accessing Facebook, you agree to this Statement., section 4.1: You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.

    Presumably a law upholding (ahem) organisation like the US government and its agencies will want to abide with agreements that they enter in to ???

    Why can they just lie and expect to get away with it. So does that imply that I can lie on my tax form and also expect to get away with it ? I am sorry: this is not acceptable. Governments seem to regard the law and good morals as something that others need to obey, not themselves. What about the individuals who manage these fake accounts, if I ordered an employee of mine to lie they would be liable to prosecution just as I would be; why should government employees be any different ?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Facebook's user agreement isn't law... it's just a user agreement. If I invite you into my home, I might ask you to first agree to take off your shoes before entering. If you agree to my terms and conditions, but then come into my house with your shoes on, you're not breaking any laws (but you might get kicked out of my house). Income tax on the other hand, is federal law (Title 26 of US code). Breaking Facebook's user agreement isn't illegal, but lying on your income tax is usually very illegal.

      • by 228e2 (934443)
        + informative / insightful..

        (but use a car analogy next time please)
    • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @07:23AM (#35253168)

      Presumably a law upholding (ahem) organisation like the US government and its agencies will want to abide with agreements that they enter in to ???

      Why can they just lie and expect to get away with it. So does that imply that I can lie on my tax form and also expect to get away with it ? I am sorry: this is not acceptable. Governments seem to regard the law and good morals as something that others need to obey, not themselves. What about the individuals who manage these fake accounts, if I ordered an employee of mine to lie they would be liable to prosecution just as I would be; why should government employees be any different ?

      What makes you think that there has to be one and only one user agreement? It's just the basic agreement that they offer everyone, there is nothing preventing the government from going to Facebook and asking:

      "Hey, we want to use your service, but we don't care for the current contract. Here is what we would like: Strike lines 1383 and 273, add these lines...."

      For example, you come over to my house and I ask you to take off your shoes. You do so, but when you get in you see that Bob is still wearing his shoes. I respond that I let Bob wear his shoes because he asked if he could, and I said yes. You ask and I say no.

      A company doesn't have to offer one 'user agreement to bind them all' and only one. Facebook could have thousands (and probably does) for different jurisdictions, groups, etc.

    • by Thing 1 (178996)

      Governments seem to regard the law and good morals as something that others need to obey, not themselves.

      Why did they stop teaching civics class, Alex?

    • by antdude (79039)

      That explains why my account was disabled after three weeks. Funny, I have another one for months and no problems.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    500 astroturfers ?

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @06:14AM (#35253020)

    John Barnett, John Bigboote, John Camp, John Careful Walker, John Chief Crier, John Cooper, John Coyote, John Edwards, John Fish, John Fledgling, John Gomez, John Grim, John Guardian, John Icicle Boy, John Jones, John Joseph, John Kim Chi, John Lee, John Littlejohn, John Many Jars, John Milton, John Mud Head, John Nephew, John Nolan, John O'Connor, John Omar, John Parrot, John Rajeesh, John Ready to Fly, John Repeat Dance, John Roberts, John Scott, John Smallberries, John Starbird, John Take Cover, John Thorny Stick, John Two Horns, John Whorfin, John Wood, John Wright, John Ya Ya

    I don't know what the authors of this film were smoking, but I want some . . .

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They are already on most social networking sites. You really think anyone would be supportive of the US government unless they were getting a paycheck out of it? All this software is trying to do is make Goverment Trolls lives easier, so they can troll even more sites more effectively.

  • by JimMarch(equalccw) (710249) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @06:39AM (#35253060)

    There's a recent trend of prosecuting people for "unauthorized use of online systems" when all they did was violate the terms of agreement of Facebook or the like. It's a real stretch to call that "hacking" but they sure tried hard in the 2008 Lori Drew case:

    http://hackaday.com/2008/05/27/violating-terms-of-service-equals-hacking/ [hackaday.com]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Lori_Drew [wikipedia.org]

    They actually failed in that case:

    http://www.burneylawfirm.com/blog/tag/hacking/ [burneylawfirm.com] ...but it was *federal* prosecutors who argued that the same thing the Air Force wants to do is in fact illegal if private citizens do it. And that wasn't the only such case - two more are discussed on this 2010 page:

    http://econsultancy.com/us/blog/6189-can-terms-of-service-turn-you-into-a-criminal [econsultancy.com]

    On top of all those issues, there might be something else illegal about this, something unique to government actors. Is it constitutional for the state to lie to influence public opinion? Seriously, are we a "democracy" (yeah, I know, technically a Constitutional Republic) anymore, if public opinion can be systematically shifted via...well, bullshit? We have "freedom of information" laws - doesn't that at least imply that information coming from government sources not be a total fraud from top to bottom?

    If we let government actors spread BS at will...ummm...we have some really ghastly examples of where that leads. North Korea is probably the worst of the worst possible endgames there but there's a ton of others worldwide.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      you could still get jailed if you took this assigment, offered it to them as a professional and then ran the services - the actual id fraud on major social networking companies- online.

  • by phntm (723283) <phan70m@ g m ail.com> on Saturday February 19, 2011 @06:50AM (#35253098) Homepage Journal

    pilots get shot down and forced to eject over hostile territories, it's a very good idea to provide them with plausible fake identities which include a rich plausible background.
    this can save lives and help our solders buy enough time to get rescued.
    also, if a spook wants to contact, let's say, the nsa or the cia from a hostile territory, i doubt he'll go over the phone.
    plus in many places encryption is a sign of wrongdoing, so using facebook and even slashdot commentary might be a good way to communicate home.
    dear mods, next time you see a troll, it's just might be a coded message from a secret agent.

    • by louic (1841824) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @07:06AM (#35253124)
      The eagle has left the nest. Please mod my post up +5 Insightful in the interest of national security, it is a message of the utmost importance.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is not the reason why they're doing this. If you don't think they can spot an American 500 miles away, you're wrong. If you think that a "spook" would contact someone over facebook, again wrong (unsecured, no encryption/tunneling, c'mon man). They're not doing this to monitor military personnel. Anti-terrorism intelligence sounds more like something the FBI/CIA would do. I'm pretty sure the soul reason this is being done is for propaganda, I just hope that it's for foreign propaganda and not domestic.

      • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @07:46AM (#35253224)

        If you think that a "spook" would contact someone over facebook, again wrong (unsecured, no encryption/tunneling, c'mon man).

        IndustrialComplex thinks that the weather was nice yesterday, he wishes it could stay like this for the entire weekend.

        Decrypt that message. Find the suspicious behavior in that message. Do you know how many datapoints could be in that message?

        The number one rule of any sort of clandestine activity is to be in the bell curve. Be that 50% person. You aren't James Bond, you are Mike Smith. You drive a reasonable vehicle. Maybe a Sonata.

        • IndustrialComplex thinks that the weather was nice yesterday, he wishes it could stay like this for the entire weekend.

          Decrypt that message. F

          So all those "friends" on my facebook mindlessly telling me throughout the day what they are thinking about making for supper, that they have started making supper, how the supper tasted, and what they want for dessert, and that their dog took too long to crap during their walk - might be secret government clandestine communications??!?!

          Makes more sense now. It's a perfect cover to put mindless drivel in amongst mindless drivel.

      • The problem with your scenario is that is doesn't explain the need for the software. What they are seeking is the ability to fake 500 accounts at a time, how many secret agents would they need to require that kind of throughput? An analogy (sorry no car) is the difference between a web server that can handle 500 hits a day and one that can handle 500 hits simultaneously.
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Would you risk your best and brightest with some .com effort?
      They look after expensive spooks. This seems for pure psyops aimed at the US public.
    • So if you get shot down in enemy territory, they're going to ask to see your Facebook page? I think it's more likely they want to convince you that some of the "friends" you have are really in support of what the government is doing in some oil-rich country and by the way they think file sharing is bad and it should be a crime.
    • Right, the "lying for security needs" argument. And it's valid, in a lot of cases.

      But then a lot of non-security-related stuff gets shoved under the same rug.

      The Wikileaks cables dump is FULL of such stuff. For example, you have high-level diplomats and other US government actors saying "hey, the Saudis are massively overstating their oil reserves". And that's considered "secret". Seriously? Sure, it's been suspected by insiders in the oil biz for some time now but those "theories" just got a huge bump

      • by gtall (79522)

        Manning broke the rules he swore to live by when he joined up. Screw him.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          And he did so rather than betray his conscience.

          If your employer were doing something immoral, I sincerely hope you’d break the rules to report them too.

    • by Thing 1 (178996)

      pilots get shot down and forced to eject over hostile territories, it's a very good idea to provide them with plausible fake identities which include a rich plausible background. this can save lives and help our solders buy enough time to get rescued.

      Or, maybe, they shouldn't be flying over hostile territory? Then they won't need to lie? I find it very odd that my government pays people to do things that we also put people in prison for.

  • The Egyptions protests have demonstrated the incredible utility of social networking sites in enabling a large pool of people to organize around a common idea. Furthermore, the online presence of these discussions stipulates that many of the individual contributing their thoughts have not actually met in person. It is a group of anonymous souls with a common idea attempting to reach out to as many people as possible. I'm do not claim to be an expert in the group dynamics or how revolutions begin, but it is
    • by Kiuas (1084567) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @10:04AM (#35253666)

      The Egyptions protests have demonstrated the incredible utility of social networking sites in enabling a large pool of people to organize around a common idea.

      As nice as that does sound it's not true. The egyptian protests had at the most 300 000 people involed. Now, while that's a lot of people we must remember that Egypt has nearly 80 million inhabitants so compared to thatt the protests were actually pretty small. And more importantly: most of the people arrived to the streets after the social networking sites had been blocked.

      The media seems to be painting a picture of some sort of revolution facilitated by social networking sites while completely forgetting the fact that no revolution actually took place: Mubarak is gone but the millitary regime that he hailed from is still in power and in fact stronger than ever (actually, the reason the millitary allowed and even endorsed the protests was that Mubarak wanted his son - who has no ties with the military - to be his successor and that angered most of the people in the armed forces). In addition, as I alreasdy stated the 300 000 protestors is not a major achievement for "social media". There have been protest even in middle-east before the era of the internet where millions of people joined the protests, such as the 1979 revolution of Iran. The crowd in Cairo never swelled to the point that it involved a substantial portion of the city.

  • like everyone else does?

  • If your Facebook privacy settings are up all the way (i.e., friends only) then what is there to worry about?
    • If your Facebook privacy settings are up all the way (i.e., friends only) then what is there to worry about?

      How do you know your "friends" aren't watching YOU? Do you have any FB friends you don't really know? Are you sure?

      I may or may not have created a completely bogus account on a popular social networking site, complete with using TOR to create it, fake nationality, language, pictures, names, interests, personal data, email address. I may or may not have quite a number of friends on that account, some from this country, some from other countries.

      Lots of people accept friend requests from anyone and everyon

  • In the words of Bill Hicks "Sit back and relax America! Your government is in control..."
  • by milkmage (795746) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:06PM (#35254224)

    "...pointed out an AP investigation showing that the U.S. military spends billions to affect public opinion, both domestic and international,"
    propaganda is to Government as marketing is to everyone else. ...this is just Comando Solo: online. a bunch of twitter/fb accounts are cheaper to maintain than an EC-130

    (http://tech.military.com/equipment/view/89727/ec-130j-commando-solo-iii.html)
    The EC-130J Commando Solo, a specially-modified four-engine Hercules transport, conducts information operations, psychological operations and civil affairs broadcasts in AM, FM, HF, TV and military communications bands. A typical mission consists of a single-ship orbit offset from the desired target audience -- either military or civilian personnel.

  • So put on your nerd hats and figure out a way to detect these personae.

    • by 32771 (906153)

      Slashdot already has acquired notoriety according to some government statements, there was an article about this on slashdot some time ago.

      Interestingly Slashdot has attempted to become more mainstream maybe to drive up add revenue. With that it has become a more worthwhile target for spin doctoring and since it has gone down in quality to reach a larger audience, the effort an attacker has to expend has gone down as well. So the bar has been lowered for everyone.

  • Looks like some 4 star general needs some more Farvmville friends. Isn't the Zynga limit 501?

    He must be going for the biggest cyberfarm in history.

  • regardless of just how good these fake personas are, they still need real friends, and real communication to look real, and unless this new "app" they are creating is an AI intelligent enough to simulate real conversation and real posts, I would say the flag will go up real quick as to what is fake (or useless) and what is real.

  • They forgot to mention the software needs to be highly scalable on the amount of personas it can manage.

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