Do you blog like a terrorist?

Noah Shachtman of Wired News (who just got back from Iraq) says,
Dark_f_2You might think your anonymous online rants are oh-so-clever.   But they'll give you away, too.  A federally-funded artificial intelligence lab is figuring out how to track people over the Internet, based on how they write.

The University of Arizona's ultra-ambitious "Dark Web" project "aims to systematically collect and analyze all terrorist-generated content on the Web," the National Science Foundation notes.  And that analysis, according to the Arizona Star, includes a program which "identif[ies] and track[s] individual authors by their writing styles."



  1. Identifying and tracking individual authors by their writing styles? I could point you to some privately-held virtual AIs that have been doing that for years.

  2. The Dark Web project is just going to drive more of us onto the darknet so we can’t be tracked.

    Just like DRM, surveillance of this kind is likely not to effect the people it’s intended to. They’ll make their activities discreet and encrypted while the rest of us get tagged as “LOLcats sympathizers” and (if you’re on livejournal) emotional wastelands.

  3. Maybe Microsoft’s research can assist Bush dissenters from getting potentially harassed.

    Obfuscating Document Stylometry to Preserve Author Anonymity


    ” … In our test set, we show that shallow anonymization can be achieved by making 14 changes per 1000 words to reduce the likelihood of identifying A as the author by an average of more than 83%. For deep anonymization, we adapt the unmasking work of Koppel and Schler to provide feedback that allows the author to choose the level of anonymization … ”

    Direct PDF link:

    PDF [76kb] Obfuscating Document Stylometry to Preserve Author Anonymity


    “I hate Bush and I want the bastard impeached right now.” – Duke

    Same person, fixed for anonymity
    “Our jank ass President gots to go I udderly can’t stand his ass or his bitch mudders ass for dat matter. America needs to run him fricken’ out of office like yesterday.” signed, Cowl

  4. “They can put booby-traps in their Web forums,” Chen explains, “and the spider can bring back viruses to our machines.” This online cat-and-mouse game means Dark Web must be constantly vigilant against these and other counter-measures deployed by the terrorists.

    Someone’s been reading too much William Gibson. This thrilling black ice / warring code cyber-talk must bring in the funding, but clearly either 1) it’s a bunch of impressive sounding bunk or 2) they know so little of what they’re doing that they really are at some sort of risk.

    I kind of suspect option #1, but I guess I shouldn’t underestimate the possibility of incompetence.

  5. There’s been awareness of this type of technique on Freenet for a while. The general recommendation for the paranoid is not to write anything long on identities you’re worried about being traced back to you. Alternatively, do what Cowicide suggests…

    (Of course, the people on Freenet who currently have most to fear are the child porn traders, and they can actually follow this advice. If it ever gets used for political dissent in any significant way, this is going to have nasty effects on anonymity.)

    The other question is, is it possible to trick the software into thinking a document is written by someone other than the real author, and so misdirect the investigators?

  6. Learn this here style close and tries to do like that:

    “As yesterday’s positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured.”

  7. Couldn’t you just get somebody else to type it for you?

    Big Brother probably couldn’t read most of what I write, what with all my spelling mistooks.


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