E-Meme: The Next Generation of Thought Crime Detection?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Infosec Island Admin

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E-MEME: The New Way to Track Movements and Ideas… What Could Go Wrong?

Wired had an article on their site this morning that just gave me the creeps.

The article talks about a new software development project that the Navy has invested in called “E-MEME” which will be able to sift through the internet for ideas and meme’s to analyze them for predictive behavior assessment.

This means that a meme or an “idea” will be tracked by this software/program/platform and alert the researchers as to what they are talking about and what likely action those talking about this meme/idea will “likely” take.

Predictive behavioral analysis… Via meme’s… Whatever could go wrong?

Obviously these folks have not spent much time on /b/ at 4chan. What the hell would this system make of “RageFace” huh? Or for that matter, lets have it analyze LOLCATS!

“Sir!.. We have predictive analysis about cats and cheezburgers!”

Yeah, ok, well that is a little overboard, but, there are darker inferences to be made here with such a technology. This is not completely new though, as there are sites like PredictiveSolutions etc that have their hooks into the news feed as well as social media that they scrape and make connections with through algorithmic processes.

Some of these sites are claiming to do what this Navy project would like to, to predict what is likely to happen in the near future using aggregate statistics on trending topics and commentary.

I should think though, that this attempt to “predict” outcomes though is something that a computer or software will lack the skills to really do. Perhaps had we had the full-blown internet of today and its social media back in 91 when the Soviet bloc finally fell, the CIA might have had a clue…

But then again, maybe not huh? I mean it’s all really dependent on the software and the input huh? What if the data is deliberate disinformation? They must have this somewhere in their heads as well right?

Identifying Ideas and Meme’s As Akin to Infections is Just A Bad Idea

The article I cited above also gives me the creeps because the people that they interview talk about this in a way that implies they just don’t understand the potential ramifications of what they want to do. They talk about ideas as “infections” there being breakouts and patient zero’s and all..

Say what? Who did they talk to? Oh yeah, epidemiologists… NOT who I would talk to about this... I mean, don’t they have some psychiatrists or even a sociologist on staff to talk to?

Read the article, it was HORRIBLE in that the clinical application of language to this makes it come off as... Well... Orwellian. The sad part is, that these people running the show aren’t the only ones who are going to benefit or use the program I suspect.

After all, this is a military project that sure as hell will end up in other areas like the government in general or for that matter, perhaps advertising people down the line. My fear though is that this will be used by the government to ill end as they can not only detect a meme, but also insert their own as they allude to in the article “to dissuade a suicide bomber”.

Uhh yeah, I don’t see that happening as well. However, they could indeed sway opinion with a tool like this in tandem with another tool put forth by someone like Aaron Barr before his HBGary debacle.

This is Just Another Tool for Control and Disinformation

Ultimately though, I see this technology being developed as a means of control. Not merely an analysis tool to help the military and the CIA to detect and determine future events like the Arab Spring. I can imagine this also being used against the likes of OWS and other groups radical and non radical as well.

Think about it... This in tandem with a system of fake profiles on twitter and other social media could indeed have cause and effect to manipulate the ideas of those who latch onto it.

What Anonymous has let out of the bottle, now the government will use (possibly) to manipulate those would be followers to action... Actions that others, with puppet strings would want to foment… Like what has been happening with Anonymous and all their Op’s...

How many of the Op’s out there were really Anonymous and how many were other governments or entities using their Anonymity against them? Think about it.

It’s the best of both worlds for the government. Passively they can watch meme’s and ideas, aggregate the data and then put people on watch lists because you subscribe to a meme. Whether or not you are a true believer!

Just as well, they then could initiate their own system of bots to sway the meme in any direction they want to. Say they decide to just make the meme not cool any more… Then perhaps the meme dies… See where I am going.. Another form of control…

*Cue* “The Architect

My Personal Orwellian Take on E-MEME

In the end my fear is this... That this technology will not only end up being used as a means to detect and perhaps arrest people for their ideas, but also to affect people’s perceptions and ideas in whatever way the wielder’s of this tool would like.

Imagine how the political operators like Karl Rove get HUGE hard on’s for something like this as we spin up to the 2012 elections. It all starts to get very “Gibsonian” to me with ideas of a Hubertus Bigend type of character trying to manipulate the masses or alternatively “detect” patterns to capitalize on them before anyone else.

The more Orwellian side of me though just see’s this as another means of controlling the populace. Of course not all meme’s will catch on with people, but as we have seen with Anonymous, a meme or an idea can be very powerful...

For both good and bad.

This, in the hands of the government today, the ones making decisions like forcing someone to give up their passwords to an encrypted drive (bypassing the 5th amendment even if they say it does not) scares the living crap out of me.

Soon doublethink will be a packaged exploit and twitter will be where the payload will be delivered. It’s a brave new world….

K.

Cross-posted from Krypt3ia

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Post Rating I Like this!
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Steven Fox, CISSP, QSA This article was doubleplus good.
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Andrea Zapparoli Manzoni Hello Scot,

I'm studying this scenarios very deeply, given my professional interest in Social Media Security, and experimenting with Social Bots Swarms on my own.

I found this news creepy and the whole project extremely dangerous (together with DARPA's Personae project), not only because it can be very easily misused, but because governments don't have the monopoly of power in cyberspace.

These technologies will become mainstream in a matter of months and will fall in the hands of corporations, marketers, lobbies, interest groups, hacktivists, terrorists, cybercriminals and so on.

What *really* scares me is the free-for-all, neo-medieval, dystopic, highly disordered future we're heading to.

PS On a side note, I believe that both E-Meme and Personae are going to kill the Social Media Age, since they're going to "poison" beyond any remedy the analysis of information and relations that is the core business for SM platform owners.

If information warfare becomes spread and "industralized" as I foresee, SNs are going to disintegrate....
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Krypt3ia @Steven Touché !!
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Krypt3ia @Andrea, this is a very disturbing program. I might disagree on the death of social media though. It will just go underground into the darknet.
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Plagiarist Paganini Andrea wrote "These technologies will become mainstream in a matter of months and will fall in the hands of corporations, marketers, lobbies, interest groups, hacktivists, terrorists, cybercriminals and so on."
I agree
Pierluigi
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Jim Palazzolo @krypt3ia - it will penetrate the darknet, if it this isn't proof that in some way it already has.

Brave new world - I believe Iron Maiden did a good album(s) on this future =).

I really don't see these tools anything other than making the "same ole' same" of information warfare more efficient. Infowar is a "trip to the brain" - talk like this floated around the metal scene back in the late 80's early 90's. Those "long hairs" must have known something lol.
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