Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Wizard War

The National Science Foundation's "Darkweb" project is developing a variety of technologies to automate what only a few online sleuths can do: find Jihadis online and track them, even when they post under different names. It can perform content and traffic analysis and "profile" the style of authors.

Using advanced techniques such as Web spidering, link analysis, content analysis, authorship analysis, sentiment analysis and multimedia analysis, Chen and his team can find, catalogue and analyze extremist activities online. According to Chen, scenarios involving vast amounts of information and data points are ideal challenges for computational scientists, who use the power of advanced computers and applications to find patterns and connections where humans can not.

The Darkweb engine can construct a stylistic fingerprint of an author, even when the author posts under pseudonyms

One of the tools developed by Dark Web is a technique called Writeprint, which automatically extracts thousands of multilingual, structural, and semantic features to determine who is creating 'anonymous' content online. Writeprint can look at a posting on an online bulletin board, for example, and compare it with writings found elsewhere on the Internet. By analyzing these certain features, it can determine with more than 95 percent accuracy if the author has produced other content in the past. The system can then alert analysts when the same author produces new content, as well as where on the Internet the content is being copied, linked to or discussed.

The software is also able to create a map of signal sources and track and measure traffic between them.

Dark Web also uses complex tracking software called Web spiders to search discussion threads and other content to find the corners of the Internet where terrorist activities are taking place. But according to Chen, sometimes the terrorists fight back.

But the online Jihadis are not stupid. And the article hints that they are aware of -- and countering -- Darkweb

"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.

Despite the risks, Dark Web is producing tangible results in the global war on terror. The project team recently completed a study of online stories and videos designed to help train terrorists in how to build improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Understanding what information is being spread about IED methods and where in the world it is being downloaded can improve countermeasures that are developed to thwart them.

If those viral booby traps are well hidden they are probably infecting a good number of Jihadists themselves, a kind of fratricide, besides which I am not so sure that the Darkweb team is not above seeding some spyware of its own. Do you know who your computer is talking to?


Blogger pmjnd said...

May it be so! Confusion to the enemy.

9/12/2007 09:17:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Let's hope this technology stays firmly focused on the Islamists. If the folks from take control of this technology, these techniques would no longer be used against the Islamists, but focused instead against us!

I hope the time does not come when the FBI and Homeland Security ignore al-Qaeda while focusing instead on the "real enemies" -- those George Soros would seek to "denazify" in his witch hunt.

The political side of this war is important, for control over these tools for policing the internet is important. Let's make sure these tools are focused on our enemies, not on us!

9/12/2007 09:31:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Like the physical frontier, you have to keep moving to stay on the technological frontier. Stay still long enough and you will be assimilated. Right now most of us, with our ISP assigned IPs are more or less in plain sight and subject to any type of surveillance by parties with the authority, resources and access to the network.

Anyone who wants to stay elusive has to learn about cryptography and find ways to conceal his position on the network. The Jihadi guys learned the value of using Internet cafes and disposable SIMMs long ago. And even that buys them only a window of time for those who are on to them.

9/12/2007 09:59:00 PM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

There's nothing advanced about a web spider.

9/13/2007 02:30:00 AM  
Blogger Lao said...

"May it be so! Confusion to the enemy."

More like endless confusion for the West.

There are no shortcuts for the lack of human intelligence.

Once the United States comes to that bitter realization then we might have a chance in the overall war.

An American Expat in Southeast Asia

9/13/2007 05:49:00 AM  
Blogger Walter said...

With the "bringing back a virus" comment one is worried that darkweb is running on the totally insecure MS-Windows line of operating systems.

At the very minimum it should be running on an hardened BSD system. Preferred would be a really confusing and obscure operating system like Plan9. I doubt a single virus exists for Plan9.

9/13/2007 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Geeks Spot Fossett?

9/13/2007 03:07:00 PM  
Blogger boinky said...


9/13/2007 09:54:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

But the online Jihadis are not stupid.

Yes. They are.

The mere fact that they're waging jihad against the entire West means they haven't the history, the physics, nor the psychology to understand what they're trying to do, nor the foresight to project their ultimate embarrassing demise.

They may be cunning but then so is a grizzly bear or a fox or a lion ...and look how far that gets a base animal when stacked up against real intelligence.

Robots can also project plans, and program themselves, and change strategies ... but the bottom line is still that they're inherently unpluggable, and therefore, stupid.

9/14/2007 04:12:00 PM  

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