US Prepares Virtual Friends For The Country’s Foes

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The US military is building an imaginary army to wage war on its enemies who use social networking sites

The US military is hoping to spy on critics of the country’s overseas policies by charming them with new online friends. Using an application known as Persona, users of social networks will be befriended by these imaginary people to allow the intelligence teams to penetrate dissident and terrorist cells.

The package was requested through its Air Mobility Command section by US Central Command (Centcom), the division of the Department of Defense embroiled in Middle Eastern affairs.

Facebook friend or Fakebook friend?

Social media penetration software had been rumoured to exist but the proof came to light when the Anonymous operation stole HBGary Federal’s emails in revenge for “snitching” to the FBI on Anonymous members and its planned activities. The incident led to the resignation of HBGary CEO Aaron Barr on February 28 “to allow the company to move on after an embarrassing data breach”, according to ThreatPost.

Persona, under development by Persona Management Software, is classed as “social media infiltration” software designed to create and manage numerous “fake people”. In a WikiLeaks-style disclosure, emails between Centcom and HBGary have been released in which Barr suggests that the application could use “social media tricks to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas”.

According to the Washington Post, Centcom issued a contract last June which specified that: “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… while hiding the existence of the operation… and provide excellent cover and powerful deniability.”

“Individuals can perform static impersonations, which allow them to look like the same person over time,” the contract added. The software also allows IP spoofing so that several US operatives can work from the same office without appearing to be in the same building, locality or even country.

Americans immune

This software creates each person with a fictitious name and email account. It furnishes the site with web pages and social media content to make it hard to tell the imaginary friend from the real thing.

“The contract and the Persona management technology itself, supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language web sites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US,” Centcom spokesman Commander. Bill Speaks told Jeff Stein from the Washington Post’s SpyTalk column.

Speaks added that the software would “absolutely” not be used against law-abiding Americans and, in an afterthought, added that, law-abiding or not, the software would not be used against any American.

The “cutting edge but developmental” software may become available on the open market and could further undermine the security of social networking sites. This should worry businesses that allow their staff open access to these sites.

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