HBGary's high-volume astroturfing technology and the Feds who requested it

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32 Responses to “HBGary's high-volume astroturfing technology and the Feds who requested it”

  1. mdh says:

    even on the internet, the shoes always give them away.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Let me be the first to welcome our new non cross-contaminated persona overlords!

  3. Tatsuma says:

    There is a guy over on FARK who brags about this very thing. Says that it is very widespread in Israel where he is from.

  4. openbookworm says:

    I believe that astroturfing is far more effective than some might believe, as it plays on humanity’s trend toward conformity, by simulating a group that is shown to believe in an idea, there will always be people willing to listen to a voice as long as it speaks loud enough. Astroturfing can thus lead to a wide acceptance of information that is blatantly untrue but as long as people have heard it often enough they won’t question the facts of the matter. Who here can remember all the anti-Obama campaigns that spread through word of mouth stating he was a Muslim and an Islamist despite all easily found evidence towards the contrary.
    I think that astroturfing presents a very real danger to the value of information placed on the internet, while a great majority of the internet is random gibberish, the sites that astroturfing will target are forums for the spread and discussion of information that is critical to our way of life; this introduction of astroturfing may lead to a contamination that devalues the worth of information that can be found online.
    On my position of the different types of government I prefer to keep it to myself, but I can say that I expect astroturfing to be used as just another tool to keep election votes. Whatever the government’s decision may be there will always be those who disagree with their actions and propaganda is a time-tested solution. With the advent of the internet comes propaganda in its newest form, that of astroturfing.

  5. codesuidae says:

    Imagine how good these sorts of tools will get as Watson-like technologies work their way into the world.

  6. Cowicide says:

    We have computer viruses and we also have Internet diseases.

    Astroturfing is a disease laid upon the Internet that serves to breed distrust and frustration among the community. It serves to stop grassroots organizing that would be the downfall of corporatists like the Koch brothers.

    The more that grassroots people attack and bring down Internet diseases like HBGary, the better it will be for democracy and grassroots organizing.

    People like Aaron Barr get what they deserve. He’s just lucky most (real) grassroots people are non-violent.

  7. codesuidae says:

    Perhaps eventually we’ll start seeing a personal certificate system, kinda like in Vinge’s “Rainbows End”.

    • dragonbait1 says:

      We have that technology, it’s called “Public Keys” and “Web of Trust”

      A shame no one uses it. Crypto needs to be EASY to be widely adopted.

      RGB

  8. Anonymous says:

    lol, if u guys dont think ur being astroturfed ur very very wrong
    but dont worry
    if ur a total d-bag, its pretty hard to out-post the ENTIRE internet
    remember, we outnumber them by quite a bit, just understand (please) not everything u read online is true…. just truer than anything ppl with money or power tell u :)

  9. Anonymous says:

    So what do you we with this knowledge? Make it illegal to create social media accounts if you don’t “mean it”? Engage in a hacking war of attrition with defense contractors/marketing firms/political campaigns to wipe out more personas than they can create?

    Or do we simple invalidate comment threads entirely and restrict unobstructed discussion on the internet to locations that no one cares to try to influence.

    Looks like bad news…

    Here’s an idea. Let create an open-source “Persona Management System” that’s free to use, at least as powerful as HBGary’s and then flood the internet with comments about how the CEO of HBGary is a child pornographer and has meth-fueled orgies with members of congress and your grandmother.

    Seriously though, a boilerplate comment like “this comment thread has been hacked by a fake persona, ask me how” with a link to the open source project’s page explaining the need to bring the danger of persona management to light.

  10. Jason Rizos says:

    A lack of confidence in community on the internet would alone be harmful to the social cohesion it tries to inspire.

  11. dross1260 says:

    “In fact..”

  12. shadowfirebird says:

    On the plus side, this is pretty much the technology we need to get Cory’s “chaff” internet secrecy thing (from Little Brother) working.

  13. jjsaul says:

    Here’s one of the bidding specification docs for the air force:

    https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=d88e9d660336be91552fe8c1a51bacb2&tab=core&_cview=1

    “Online Persona Management Service. 50 User Licenses, 10 Personas per user.

    Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user’s situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.”

  14. netsharc says:

    Oh wow, whole complete virtual machines? Why? Firefox already allows you to have user profiles, and several can be opened simultaneously. Using the Personas skin engine you can also do that differentiating of colour schemes to make sure you don’t forget who you are.

    Oh wait, they talk about forging origins (I guess through VPN) – different proxy settings for different Firefox profiles? Real time local information, so weather and time? Also offered by Firefox extensions.

    • codesuidae says:

      I’d guess that the complete virtual machines make it easier for people who are almost completely technically inept to use the system with an absolute minimum of cross-contamination.

      Also, perhaps a sales strategy. You can make more money if you can convince your buyer that they have to buy something big and complex instead of something small and simple, even if it does the same job.

      I’ve noticed that business is more about solving the problem of getting your customers to give you mountains of money than it is about solving the customers problems. It’s occasionally a fundamental mismatch between the way I write software and the way my employer wants software written.

  15. jjsaul says:

    I guess I should have put “geographacilly(sic)”… which reminds me. Is anyone else dumbfounded by the spectacular illiteracy in Barr’s emails? In an age when even texting services provide spell check, how is this still so widespread among ostensibly intelligent professionals at the top of a complex and technical industry?

  16. SB-129 says:

    ahhh. so that’s how FOX news story comments are generated!…. or at least i hope…

  17. andygates says:

    This is pretty much vanilla alt management. How are they charging for this when stalkers and weirdos (hi Mom!) do it free? I sense another of those “Do Something Internetty – ??? – Profit” plans.

    Betcha they’d still get it wrong by using linguistic and stylistic tics. It is hellaciously hard not to drop those favourite words, be they ‘betcha’ and ‘hellacious’ or just a particular style of smiley. ;) ^_^

    Big budget amateur hour. Which makes me think that HBGary are basically the Uwe Boll of … whatever the hell it is they actually do.

    • Cowicide says:

      whatever the hell it is they actually do

      They attempt to enable armies of astroturf sockpuppets that disrupt communications for actual and potential grassroots communities. Basically, they attempt to destroy democracy without actually shutting down the internet and they are scum of the earth.

      They infest threads here at boingboing, daily kos, huffington post… everywhere, really… as I said earlier, they are an Internet disease. It’s vermin enabling vermin.

      • OrcOnTheEndOfMyFork says:

        They attempt to enable armies of astroturf sockpuppets that disrupt communications for actual and potential grassroots communities. Basically, they attempt to destroy democracy without actually shutting down the internet and they are scum of the earth.

        Quinton K: This comment sucks.

        Sara A: I can’t believe you’d say something like this. Get out of my country!

        Steve M: Error -9461

        Angie Q: That was insightful Steve M!

        Bob Z: Steve M for president!

    • codesuidae says:

      Betcha they’d still get it wrong by using linguistic and stylistic ticks

      Indeed. A good system might have you compose the text you intend to post in an application-specific editor that supports profiles for that sort of thing. It could make suggestions about alternate words, punctuation style, etc.

      • travtastic says:

        The game Chrono Cross had something like 45 playable characters, three of whom could be in your party at once. They used substitution algorithms for the grammar and vocabulary, and ran them against baseline sentences to make he dialogue more believable.

  18. Jonathan says:

    Great that this came out, but I’m sure it doesn’t come as too much of a shock to many. After all, the president’s top political advisor, David Axelrod, even runs an astroturfing firm. See: The Secret Side of David Axelrod.

    The only tactic I’ve found to work against astroturfers is to publicly call out the corporations behind the turf, and mock/shame them. Posting parody pics of the executives heading the corporations that employ astroturfing seems to have some effect.

  19. Antinous / Moderator says:

    And this is why you need live moderators.

  20. travtastic says:

    “…a federal government solicitation seeking automated tools for astroturfing message boards in foreign countries.”

    Foreign countries. Right.

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