by Sean Kerrigan
Social Media Examiner
February 18, 2011
Sean Kerrigan is a freelance
journalist covering emerging forms of new media and its effect on
society. He specializes in covering cable news, podcasting and the
Internet. Sean is a former writer for the Bucks County Courier Times
and is a member of the National Journalism Honor Society. Visit his
website at SeanKerrigan.com or email him at
The US government is offering private intelligence companies contracts
to create software to manage "fake people" on social media sites and create
the illusion of consensus on controversial issues.
The contract calls for the development of "Persona Management Software"
which would help the user create and manage a variety of distinct fake
profiles online. The job listing was discussed in recently leaked emails
from the private security firm
an attack by internet activist last week.
Click here to view the government contract.
According to the contract, the software would,
"protect the identity of government
agencies" by employing a number of false signals to convince users that
the poster is in fact a real person.
A single user could manage unique background
information and status updates for up to 10 fake people from a single
The software enables the government to shield its identity through a number
of different methods including the ability to assign unique IP addresses to
each persona and the ability to make it appear as though the user is posting
from other locations around the world.
Included in HBGary's leaked emails was a government proposal for the
government contract. The document describes how they would 'friend' real
Facebook as a way to convey government
The document reads:
"Those names can be cross-referenced across
Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other social media services to collect
information on each individual. Once enough information is collected
this information can be used to gain access to these individuals social
Even the most restrictive and security conscious of persons can be
exploited. Through the targeting and information reconnaissance phase, a
personís hometown and high school will be revealed. An adversary can
classmates.com account at the same high
school and year and find out people you went to high school with that do
not have Facebook accounts, then create the account and send a friend
Under the mutual friend decision, which is
where most people can be exploited, an adversary can look at a targets
friend list if it is exposed and find a targets most socially
promiscuous friends, the ones that have over 300-500 friends, friend
them to develop mutual friends before sending a friend request to the
To that end friendís accounts can be
compromised and used to post malicious material to a targets wall. When
choosing to participate in social media an individual is only as
protected as his/her weakest friend."
Other documents in the leaked emails include
quotes from HBGary CEO Aaron Barr saying,
"There are a variety of social media tricks
we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas...
Using hashtags and gaming some location based check-in services we can
make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and
introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise, as
Additional emails between HBGary employees,
usually originating from Barr, discuss the vulnerability social networking
One employee wrote,
"and now social networks are closing the gap
between attacker and victim, to the point I just found (via linked-in)
112 females, wives of service men, all stationed at Hurlbert Field FL -
in case you don't know this is where the CIA flies all their "private"
airlines out of. What a damn joke - the U.S. is no longer the super
power in cyber, and probably won't be in other areas soon."
Barr also predicted a steady rise in clandestine
or secret government operations to stem the flow of sensitive information.
"I would say there is going to be a
resurgence of black ops in the coming year as decision makers settle
with our inadequacies... Critical infrastructure, finance, defense
industrial base, and government have rivers of unauthorized
communications flowing from them and there are no real efforts to stop
The creation of internet propaganda software is
only one of HBGary's controversial activities.
Wikileaks competitor and occasional collaborator
Cryptome.org, several other progressive organizations were
intended to be targeted including,