Monday, March 21, 2011

Specialized software to help undercover agents monitor social networks

Tom worked under dim lights, posting late into the night. The topic would invariably be child pornography, amply demonstrated by the vivid images he traded with his friends. There was not much he knew about them, except that they shared the same sexual perversion for young children.
It had all started quite simply, when he accepted a pen pal request from Duke who claimed to run orphanages from where he produced a variety of child pornography. As his conversations grew he was invited to join this special group. It had many members from various parts of the world who shared the same sexual desire. Tom initially was a passive pedophile, content to browse child porn. This group offered him the ability to participate in the actual act of seduction using social networks. Members provided information on techniques to lure children online, to build fake personas, how to befriend them, earn their trust, find out their weakness and eventually pressurize them to share objectionable pictures and blackmail. The group had over sixty members, mostly anonymous.
Recently, several of these members received a knock on their door from their local police force, who seized their computers and booked them for crimes against children. Tom was actually Cynthia one of the many men and women who don fake personas, lying in wait for the opportunity to infiltrate these groups. They have a different life as men and women of crime forces, but put on a different mask online each day as undercover agents building their network of friends, creating fictitious persona and infiltrating such groups. Many have more than one profile.
This particular story was a figment of my imagination but under it lurks a dark lurid reality. The world over social networks are used by criminals, terrorist, sex offenders and drug peddlers, not only for interactions with their own kind but to subvert youth and lure them as pawns or agents. Cynthia and agents like her work their best to keep the online world safe. On similar lines in real life last Wednesday, Europol said it broke up the largest international ring of pedophiles with 70,000  members across the globe.
In  a news report titled “US military developing software to 'influence Internet conversations” the US military was reported to have contracted a software company to build programs that “will let it secretly manipulate social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter by using fake online personas to influence Internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.”
Such software allows a single agent play multiple personas on online networks. It will not be long before more sophisticated behaviour based intelligence gathering and analysis products are available that can help government agencies monitor and track cyber criminals, terrorist, sex offenders and of course if used incorrectly normal people.

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