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?