Are We All Facebook Stalkers?

Posted July 9th, 2012 at 3:51 pm (UTC-4)
12 comments

A Different Perspective On A Common Phrase

Over the years, we’ve run stories warning of the dangers of social networks; of “over-sharing” and eroding personal privacy. One aspect previously addressed is the phenomena often called “cyber-stalking.” We stand second to no one in warning of the genuine threat stalkers pose, regardless of whether they track their targets in the real or virtual worlds. That said, a challenge arises when defining what, exactly, constitutes stalking. Our summer intern, Ross Slutsky, has been thinking about a phrase he’s hearing a lot from his peers – “Facebook stalking” – and offers these thoughts. While this is his opinion, we’re very interested in your response and perspectives on this topic. – DF

Ross Slutsky | Washington DC 

Web image.  social networking netiquette

Netiquette is often less simple than it seems.

Facebook seems to tap into a common desire for people to feed their curiosity about others. However, has Facebook really turned all of us into stalkers? And, if everyone is a stalker, does the term stalker still have any meaning?

As a 21-year-old college student, I often hear my friends refer to their online behavior as “Facebook stalking.” When they use this term, they mean a wide array of social networking activities such as looking at other people’s likes, statuses, comments, and, photos. One of my friends defined Facebook stalking as “the use of Facebook for acquiring information that is not obvious, and, if publicly revealed, would make the holder of said information look creepy.” In other words, if you would not be comfortable revealing information about someone, you should not acquire that information in the first place.

While that could be an effective rule of thumb for personal conduct, it’s not one that many people seem to abide by.  All of my friends admit to being “Facebook stalkers.” They admit that they have looked at the information of people they don’t know very well (or in some cases don’t know at all) on many occasions. But is anyone to wag a finger at them for this?

While it would usually be creepy to look at the Facebook profile of a complete stranger, what if they have tons of mutual friends and shared interests?

Even when you are “friends” with someone on Facebook, what rights does that afford you in terms of access to their information? There are no right answers, and different people have reached different conclusions on this subject. Yet most people are still nonetheless referring to themselves self-deprecatingly as “Facebook stalkers.”One student's definition of Facebook Stalking

Are they truly stalkers? If so, this planet contains hundreds of millions of stalkers. Social information technologies have blurred and complicated many of the cultural norms about how people learn about each other. Read the rest of this entry »

A Victory for the Internet?

Posted July 6th, 2012 at 1:33 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

A New Push For, And Old Worries About, Internet Freedom

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

Freedom champions take heart…at least a little bit. There were some moves this week that advocates for free online expression say point to a larger trend toward more, not less, freedom on the web. But the Internet being fickle, not all the news was so good.

First to the positive developments. On Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution affirming that people’s basic human rights – among them the freedom of expression – apply equally to the Internet. “A victory for the Internet,” declared Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt of the measure, the first of its kind to come before the Council. Six nations, including the United States, Tunisia and Nigeria, presented the proposal which ultimately was agreed to by 80 nations. Recognizing “the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms,” the measure calls on the global community to promote access to the Internet and establish uniform policies to ensure free and open communication. (This will no doubt feature at the upcoming ITU debates over Internet regulation, featured here earlier.) Read the rest of this entry »

What Do You Think: Regulating Online Speech

Posted June 25th, 2012 at 4:33 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

Adding Your Voice To The Debate

Ross Slutsky | Washington DC

Keen observers of the web may have noticed recently some in politics and the media expressing concern about online free speech, and an upcoming meeting of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union. The ITU works to create international standards for digital communications, and during this year’s meeting, in Dubai this December, attendees will debate various proposals to update the 1988 treaty known as the International Telecommunications Regulations, or ITR.

There’s a lot at stake, and already a U.S. House of Representatives committee cautioned the UN to steer clear from Internet regulation, passing a resolution requesting President Obama emphasize that it is the “unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control.” An interesting position, given the amount of attention this Congress has spent on regulatory measures such as SOPA and PIPA, but that’s for another discussion.

Elsewhere, some in the media have begun worrying that changes to the ITR proposed by Russia and some Arab states could broadly expand intergovernmental regulatory powers, and possibly have a chilling effect on a wide range of online behaviors.

On Tuesday June 26, Digital Frontiers will be live-tweeting from a panel hosted by the National Endowment for Democracy titled “Clear and Present Danger,” previewing this summer’s ITU meeting and the serious issues in play, such as freedom of online expression.

How would you balance the need for regulation against the right of free speech? Does more government authority over the Internet worry you? What standards do you think are appropriate for Internet regulation, and what role should the UN play in Internet policy?

VOA wants to give you a voice in this debate. Tweet us your thoughts at @dfrontiers, and use the hashtag #cimaevents, and we’ll share your questions and opinions with the likes of Rebecca MacKinnon, Emma Llansó and the other panelists. And watch for our live updates Tuesday on Twitter.com.

Shattered Glass

Posted June 20th, 2012 at 4:07 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

One Hit, And One Miss, On Social Media Integration

Ross Slutsky | Washington DC

Network executives have been buzzing for years about finding new ways to add social media into the television experience. No TV program worth a mention doesn’t have its own Twitter feed, Facebook page or some other social networking component.

But are all these digital efforts really hitting the mark? Does television really know what to do with social media, or is it just playing around with old ideas?

Two current examples may offer some answers.

First, ABC’s new take on adding social media to “reality” TV misses a valuable opportunity to do something interesting with its experimental format.

When I first heard about the premise of “The Glass House”, it seemed promising.  There are fourteen contestants and each week, the audience determines via an app integrated via Facebook and/or Twitter which tasks the contestants have to complete, who will be voted off, and, ultimately, who will win $ 250,000. The show includes a discussion section on its website where users can talk about who they think should be voted off and why.

Additionally, the show integrates live streaming that enables people to peek in on what is happening inside of the house at selected times during the week when the show isn’t on air. (For any of our more voyeuristic readers, you can view the live feed between 11 PM and 3 AM on Mondays, as well as from 3 PM to 4 PM on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.) Read the rest of this entry »

Google Scrubs The Web

Posted June 18th, 2012 at 4:44 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

“An Alarming Rise” In Internet Censorship

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

If the latest numbers from Google are any measure, 2012 is not shaping up as a good year for free speech on the Internet.

For the last two or so years, following a high-profile dust-up with the government of China regarding content, the search engine giant Google unveiled its “Transparency Report.” The site compiles specific requests  from governments or claimed copyright holders to remove or block content, and charts Google’s responses.

For example, from July to December 2011, the government of Brazil issued 128 court orders to remove content, which Google says it complied with 67% of the time. In contrast Australia only had six requests during the same period, with a reported Google compliance rate of only 17%.

Image courtesy Google

The report has become a helpful reference for those monitoring the general tolerance of free expression around the globe, and online trends in specific countries.

This week, Google released a new trend report, and according to Google’s Dorothy Chou, Google Senior Policy Analyst, the news is troubling. Read the rest of this entry »

The Web’s “Triple Revolution”

Posted June 14th, 2012 at 7:02 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

And Tracking Down Trolls Online

Periodically we like to share a few of the stories and posts from across the web that caught our eye. There are no editorial threads implied connecting these items together, other than being interesting.

We’re also pleased to introduce Ross Slutsky, a new intern here at Digital Frontiers. Slutsky is a senior at Emory University, studying history and political science. He’s pursuing a graduate certificate in digital media studies, and will be working with us this summer. Among Slutsky’s favorite memes are the “y u no” guy and the “Philosoraptor.”

Ross Slutsky and Doug Bernard | Washington DC

#1: Networked. Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman’s new book Networked: The New Social Operating System adds a valuable, if somewhat restrained, voice to the ongoing debates about the role of digital media in our time. In keeping with their academic pedigrees, they work hard to objectively weigh the implications, both positive and negative, of the digital age. But this is no document from the mushy middle. In the end, they land closer to sunny tech evangelists like Vint Cerf and Chris Anderson than their somewhat gloomier peers like Sherry Turkle and Evgeny Morozov.

Rainie and Wellman argue the “triple revolution” of  social networks, the Internet, and mobile computing are the primary driving forces responsible for the present state of technology in North America. Most memorable here is is their concept of “networked individualism” – noting that while computers and mobile technologies may limit our contact with those physically near us, they can also keep us connected with others online. Read the rest of this entry »

Spying Online In Syria

Posted June 7th, 2012 at 11:09 am (UTC-4)
2 comments

Damascus Mines The Web To Target Activists

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

As the situation and armed conflicts in Syria enter a new period of uncertainty and militarization, it increasingly appears the same may well be said about Syria’s Internet.

Of course, it’s old news to say that Damascus restricts citizen’s access to the web for its own purposes, deploying filters, blocks, malware and other dirty tricks to impede those critical of the regime. But recently, VOA has begun to get word that something new, and possibly much more grave, may be going on in that nation.

While reliable information is difficult to get in or out of Syria, our efforts to learn what’s actually happening there suggest that the regime of Bashar al-Assad is moving to militarize the web, aggressively working to use it as a surveillance tool to target, and punish, opponents of the government.

“As of right now, things are very fluid,” is how one Syrian activist sums up the situation for us.

Fluid…and dangerous.

A Military Treasure Trove

Cartoon image of President Assad spying online (courtesy Free Syrian Computer Society)

“We’ve been receiving distressing reports about what’s happening with the Internet in Syria for about a year now,” says Eva Galperin. “But the reports are getting more and more distressing.”

Galperin is International Freedom of Expression Coordinator at the online free-speech group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF. For years she and her organization have tracked attempts by repressive regimes to restrict or even cut off people’s access to the digital environment of computers, mobile phones and the Internet. These days, Syria is a subject of constant concern.

Just this week, the EFF reported a new computer bug, apparently deployed by the government, that can turn activist’s computers into weapons for spying. Here’s how it works: an Skype message containing a document is sent to friend’s Skype accounts. The message says it’s a plan to help other activists in the city of Aleppo, the scene of growing turmoil, but it’s actually a “trojan” – a bug that installs itself silently on the target’s computer. Says Galperin, “once inside, it takes control of your computer and logs all of your keystrokes, passwords and screenshots, and sends that information back” to whoever controls it.

The fact that it sends data back to only one IP address tells Galperin that it’s likely a government trick, all to gather information on its citizens.

And for Internet activist Martin Löwdin, that’s an important clue for what the government is up to. “A semi-open monitored Internet is a treasure trove for the security services and military when trying to track and quash dissent,” he tells us.

Löwdin is a member of the group Telecomix, a hacker collective similar in some regards to its more famous cousin Anonymous, but very different in terms of mission. Unlike Anonymous hacks, which can often veer into the personal or juvenile, Telecomix members focus on concrete solutions to keep the web as open and free as possible, especially recently in the “Arab Spring” nations. Back in 2011, when Egyptian officials temporarily erased that nation from the web, it was Telecomix that got the first Internet access routes open for Egyptian activists.

As worrisome as the recent trojans are for Löwdin, his larger worry is the level of Internet monitoring the government is likely conducting.

“To date two or three trojans have been identified, but they don’t seem to be the main problem for Syrians trying to use the Internet. Rather, access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube being blocked — as well as several filtering and disrupting systems put to heavy use — are the main problems for Syrian Internet users. It is also expected, if unconfirmed, that the traffic that does get through the filters is monitored.”

Syria is known to have very sophisticated systems of web monitoring in place. One of those is a state of the art system from the U.S.-based firm Blue Coat Technologies that allows for very robust filtering of specific content, not just the blunt hammer of totally blocking a site like Facebook. More recently, Damascus was well on its way to installing a system from the Italian firm Area SpA that would have given the government the ability to scan the content of SSL or other encrypted messages. Under pressure that firm later withdrew from finishing the installation.

The Advantage of Keeping The Web Running

Traceroute from computer inside Syria strongly suggesting government web filtering

The Assad government has a documented history of using information obtained electronically to target and punish critics. Just one example: in the fall of 2011, British journalist Sean McAllister was working with web activists to document what was happening on the ground in Syria. But McAllister was sloppy with his electronic fingerprints – he says he didn’t realize the depth of surveillance efforts there – and he was taken into custody. Some of those McAllister was working with, and whose information was in his devices, have since disappeared; the rest fled.

So just imagine what Assad’s police forces could do with the equivalent of 100, or 1,000, Sean McAllisters.

While the situation may change at any time, it appears at present the government is not slowing access to the web in general or slowing its speed, says Doug Madory, an analyst at the “Internet intelligence” firm Renesys. Last year, when Syria temporarily brought the web to a crawl, it was Renesys that provided the independent verification of what they were doing. “We keep a pretty close eye on Syria,” he says, “and while we have other concerns, at this point it doesn’t look like they’re trying to shut the web down.”

And why would they, asks Martin Löwdin, if those in power believed that the information they could suck from the web outweighed the risks of letting activists communicate and organize online? “They haven’t gone for the ‘Mubarak Kill Switch‘,” he says, adding:

“There have been indications that STE, the Syrian national internet provider, have taken over much of the filtering — this is indicated by the fact that updates to the block lists seemed to come into effect for every ISP at once, rather than the staggered deployment seen earlier (when lists of sites to block were transmitted by fax to each ISP.)”

What Syrians Can Do

Logo for the hacktivist group Telecomix Syria

Anita Hunt, possibly not her real name, is a self-identified member of the group Global Freedom Movement, another hacker collective associated with Telecomix and focused on Internet freedoms. Hunt reports an increasing crackdown on Internet activity in Syria and also worries about escalating web spying by the government. But, she says, Syrians can fight back with circumvention. “The most common methods of circumvention are still centered on Tor, VPN and proxies,” says Hunt. “The issue with file extensions is not significantly preventing images or video from getting out.”

“Remember: You Are Being Watched,” warns the website of the Free Syrian Computer Society. Activists there provide several recommendations for Syrians to safeguard their privacy online, including using SSL & https, VPNs and services like Tor that safeguard users’ privacy.

And it’s not just those inside Syria that need to protect themselves – so, too, should their friends and allies. VOA’s Davin Hutchins, over at our companion site Middle East Voices, has this thorough guide on the best tools and options for anyone wanting to protect themselves online; it’s well worth the time.

These and others are all fine suggestions, says the EFF’s Eva Galperin. But the most important step, she says, is for Syrians not to fall prey to what she calls privacy nihilism:

“It’s very easy when you’re leaving the house every day and you’re simply risking your life by stepping out onto the street to think ‘Well, they’re spying on me anyway, so I should take no precautions.’ To that I say it’s extremely important to take precautions.  It’s one thing to say the government can spy on you; it’s quite another to make it easy for them to do so. Don’t make it easy for them.”

Good advice in fluid times.

 

A Sociopath’s Online Trail

Posted June 5th, 2012 at 12:00 am (UTC-4)
27 comments

Tracking Luka Magnotta’s Digital Footprints

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

Warning: This story contains elements of a graphic and often disquieting nature.

There’s nothing about the story of Luka Magnotta that isn’t unsettling, bizarre or even profoundly disturbing. It’s a story of cruelty, murder and a sociopath’s need for attention.

In many ways, it’s not much different than the sad procession of grisly crime tales that have preceded it through history. But Luka Magnotta’s story is different in one key regard: the degree to which much of it played out online in real time…and the role of the Internet in his capture.

 

A Carefully Crafted Online Life

From Luka Magnotta's Facebook page

Born Eric Clinton Newman, the 29-year-old Canadian national changed his name to Luka Rocco Magnotta on August 12, 2006 when he was just 24 – the first of his many changes. Raised by his grandparents, those formerly involved with Magnotta say he had poor relations with his family, who have refused all comment. Around the same time as his name change, Magnotta began appearing in different guises online: posing for semi-clothed photos, billing himself under various names as an adult film “star” and even competing on a nationally televised modelling competition.

He lost, but he then began using different names: Luka Rocco, Vladimir Romanov, Mattia Del Santo, Jimmy; each with a different back story and different identity. They all seemed different, but were all Magnotta.

In no time, the web began to blossom with references to one or more of these people. Pictures, videos, interviews; MySpace pages, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and personal websites, complete with comments from ‘contributors’ who all read suspiciously alike.

Luke Magnotta posing uncomfortably with a fake gladiator

Magnotta, it seems, was populating the Internet with a host of made-up personae, littering the web with ego-boosting references and carefully crafted images of himself as someone of remarkable beauty, exceptional talent and unlimited possibilities. “I’m a people person,” Magnotta says during an interview about his “career” as a male escort that can only be described as off-kilter (if not just weird.)

But other sides of Magnotta began to emerge as well. Messages on white supremacist websites were linked to Magnotta. On Orato, a 2007 poster named “Luka Magnotta” wrote of serious sexual abuse and mental illness which site editors called “creepy.” Maclean’s reported that Magnotta was the source of a rumor that he had dated Canadian serial killer Karla Homolka – a rumor he later vehemently denied in an unhinged appearance at office of the Toronto Sun.

And it got worse.

Someone named “Rocco Magnotta” wrote a blog entry titled “How to Completely Disappear and Never be Found,” advising readers to “cut all personal ties with everyone who knows you,” “create new identities” among other unbalanced suggestions. Now deleted, a blog titled Necrophilia Serial Killer Luka Magnotta emerged, with two bizarre posts extolling the author’s fascination with dead bodies.

Then in 2010, someone posted a video on YouTube of a young man putting two kittens in a plastic bag, then vacuuming out the air until the kittens suffocated. (Other videos of cruelty to kittens followed.) Animal rights activists quickly identified the torturer as Magnotta, a claim he denied by accusing his agent, former friends, or unnamed ‘stalkers’ of plots to ruin his life.

Soon Magnotta’s other online personae sprang to action, choking website comment sections with strange, unfocused rants while extolling Magnotta’s talents. Whatever was happening, whatever the accusation, Magnotta appeared to have an ever-inflating sense of his importance, actively putting himself at the center of online dramas he likely created.

 

Digital Fingerprints and Online Confessions

On May 29 Canadian police were aghast to discover someone had mailed a human foot to a Conservative Party leader in Ottawa. Authorities quickly discovered another parcel containing a human hand, headed to Liberal Party headquarters, and began a nationwide investigation.

Around that time, investigators made a horrific discovery online: someone had posted  a video titled “1 Lunatic, 1 Ice Pick” of what appeared to be the murder and dismemberment of a young Asian man, committed by someone who looked suspiciously like Magnotta. [Ed note: the video was removed from YouTube but continues to be re-posted elsewhere. Canadian authorities confirmed the authenticity of the video. VOA will not link to these videos.]

Montreal police quickly identified the victim as Jun Lin, a Chinese national studying at Montreal’s Concordia College and rumored to be sexually involved with Magnotta. Lin’s remains were found inside and nearby Magnotta’s apartment, but Magnotta wasn’t; it soon became obvious that he had fled to Paris. Police issued a warrant for Magnotta on charges of murder, desecration and cannibalism.

Photo from INTERPOL of Luka Magnotta recently in an unidentified airport

But far from trying to disappear online, Magnotta appears to have continued actively posting on the web while in flight, both defending himself and taunting authorities. The Twitter account “LukaMagnotta” posted on May 31, “Je suis en cavale LOL” – French for “I’m on the run.” A new YouTube user named “Beavis Butthead” began posting videos with images both from Magnotta’s Montreal apartment alongside those from the murder video, accompanied by discursive comments that read much like those of Magnotta’s online personae.

Briton’s Sun newspaper, already accustomed to having flesh-crawling encounters with Magnotta, reported this week that it spotted someone in an online war game using an account associated by Magnotta. The Sun on Monday also published pictures from what it said was another video posted online containing images of what looks like a bloody handprint and the words “It Was Luka Magnotta.”

And so it came as no surprise on Monday when authorities in Berlin announced they had taken Magnotta into custody…while he was at an Internet cafe. He had been reading online news coverage about himself. “You got me,” he told police.

A New Breed Of Psychopath?

“I would have to say that Luka Magnotta was quite a bit different from the other psychopaths I’ve dealt with in the past,” says criminal profiler Pat Brown. “Not that his general behavior isn’t typically psychopathic; he’s very narcissistic, he’s very grandiose, he has no empathy, he’s a manipulator of the nth degree. What is different about him is he’s basically an attention whore; he loves the media, and he wants to be the most well-known person in the world.”

Altered photo of the Sun's Kris Sims with Luke Magnotta's face, allegedly posted by Magnotta himself while on the run in France

As a professional profiler, Brown has a lot of experience with sociopaths and serial killers, some of which she documents in her book “The Profiler.” Unlike most any other sociopathic killers she’s tracked, Brown says Magnotta invested an unusual amount of time and work into creating an online reality – one that met his needs for approval, but also, she says, put him into his own reality.

“Serial killers don’t spend this amount of time on this,” she notes. In part because, perhaps obvious to everyone but Magnotta, all those digital fingerprints helped authorities track him down. “This is something new.”

Brown may be right. Prior to Magnotta, most deranged serial killers preferred to operate in the shadows, cultivating an unassuming and private image. Of course, many – like Ted Bundy or the “BTK” or “Scorpio” killers – have long taunted police or select members of the media in a perverse game of ‘Catch Me If You Can.’

And more recently Igor Suprunyuck and Victor Sayenko, the young Ukranian serial murders dubbed “The Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs,” posted online updates and images from their spree of 21 murders by hammer. Ukranian prosecutors made ample use of Suprunyuck’s Facebook page, which lists Sayenko as a friend, his motto as “The Weak Must Die, The Strong Will Prosper,” and his favorite sport as “hammer toss.”

But Brown says Magnotta’s use and infatuation with the web as a tool for his own aggrandizement may likely inspire others. “Undoubtedly,” she says:

“We saw in Columbine how that one action inspired copycats. I’ve no doubts that this one [Magnotta] used the Internet as a way to get himself out there; to promote himself to exactly what he wanted to be, the one everyone is reading about. And it’s a sure thing that others will follow in his steps, learning from what he did to feed their own fantasies.”

Meaning more monsters may look to Magnotta and begin plotting their own exploits, amplified by the Internet.

Magnotta’s last Facebook update: “Monsters, Demons and Ghosts, they live in-side of us and they are real, and sometimes they win.”

Jun Lin, in a recent photo posted on his Facebook page

Postscript: While Magnotta has been grabbing headlines the world over for his clearly bizarre behavior and other obscene actions he is alleged to have committed, almost forgotten has been Jun Lin. A 33-year-old student, Lin had a part-time job as a cashier in a Montreal convenience store. Known as Patrick Lin on Facebook, he is universally described as polite, friendly, and an all-around nice guy.

In a dark twist to an otherwise upsetting story, one of Lin’s last postings on Facebook was of a deserted Montreal subway car he was riding on last month. He titled the picture “Midnight cannibalism train.”

 

Flame War

Posted May 30th, 2012 at 2:13 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

New Alarm Bells, And Old Questions, About The Flame Virus And Cyber-War

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

There’s a new Big Bad lurking out there on the Internet, and it goes by the name of “Flame.” But what we don’t know about it may be more important than what we do.

Tuesday morning, computer security analysts around the world woke to startling news. Namely, that the “Flame” infection has been stalking targets in the Middle East since at least 2010 (and possibly earlier) and only now uncovered. Worse, as malware goes, “Flame” is pretty ugly.

Now as a general rule, a new computer virus these days hardly counts as news. Websites and data centers the world over are routinely probed, hacked, infected or otherwise damaged amid a rising tide of computer espionage and Internet piracy. But from the earliest announcement late on Monday May 28 by Kaspersky Labs – the security firm that first uncovered the bug – one had the sense that Flame was different.

A Departmenf of Homeland Security official at work at the cyber defense command center (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

“Flame can easily be described as one of the most complex threats ever discovered,” writes Aleks with Kaspersky Labs.  “It’s big and incredibly sophisticated. It pretty much redefines the notion of cyberwar and cyberespionage.”

“The complexity and functionality of the newly discovered malicious programme exceed those of all other cyber menaces known to date,” said Mario Obiso of the UN International Telecommunications Union (or ITU) issuing that organization’s most serious warning they have ever put out about a computer virus.

“The recent incidents of mass data loss in Iran could be the outcome of some installed module of this threat,” read the stiff statement from Iran’s National Computer Emergency Response Team, unusual both for its candor and speed.

Analysts and reporters quickly piled on. “The most lethal cyber-weapon to date” cried one. “An industrial vacuum cleaner,” said another. Within hours of the first announcement, the Internet was filling up with dire warnings about Flame and what it may do.

Yet despite the alarm bells, there’s still much unknown about Flame. Specifically, what does it really do? Who released it into the digital environment, and more importantly, is it really a cyber-weapon?

Read the rest of this entry »

UPDATE: Admitting To An Online Hit

Posted May 25th, 2012 at 11:33 am (UTC-4)
4 comments

Co-Owner of a Pentagon Contracting Admits To Online Smear

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

Earlier this month we posted a story involving Leonie Industries, a private firm that’s been awarded around 120 million dollars in Pentagon contracts for services they call “information crafting,” but what most people would call propaganda. Leonie had become the target of two USA Today journalists, Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, who were asking questions about oversight of those Leonie contracts, and the effectiveness of its work. Additionally, they reported that Leonie co-founders Camille Chidiac and Rema Dupont owed a significant amount of unpaid taxes – a claim not quite disputed by Leonie, but countered when those tax bills were suddenly paid up.

Graphic image from Leonie Industries webpage

At almost exactly the same time, Locker and Vanden Brook became targets themselves; this time of an online smear campaign meant to discredit the reporters. “Something I’ve never experienced in thirty years,” Locker said of the Internet attacks.

In our earlier post, we reported on speculation in the media on who was responsible for the smears. Gawker‘s John Cook pointed the finger squarely at Leonie, citing an unnamed source. A post on Leonie’s blog denounced the smears, saying “While Leonie has no reason to believe that any employee was involved in this activity, an internal investigation is being conducted to determine whether any employee was so involved. If that investigation determines that there was such involvement, appropriate action will be taken.”

Now we can report that it was, in fact, someone at Leonie who led the attacks. Specifically, it was Camille Chidiac, the co-founder who owns 49% of the firm.

Read the rest of this entry »

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