Revealed: Air Force ordered software to manage army of fake virtual people
By Stephen C. Webster / rawstory.com
Feb 19, 2011

These days, with Facebook and Twitter and social media galore, it can be increasingly hard to tell who your "friends" are.

But after this, Internet users would be well advised to ask another question entirely: Are my "friends" even real people?

In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online "personas," allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they'd like.

The revelation was among those contained in the company's emails, which were dumped onto bittorrent networks after hackers with cyber protest group "Anonymous" broke into their systems.

In another document unearthed by "Anonymous," one of HBGary's employees also mentioned gaming geolocation services to make it appear as though selected fake persons were at actual events.

"There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas," it said.

Eerie as that may be, more perplexing, however, is a federal contract from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of "persona management software."

While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple "official" social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.

Unfortunately, the Air Force's contract description doesn't help dispel suspicions. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be "replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent."

It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator's Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it's a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.

The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server's "geosite" to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.

The Air Force added that the "place of performance" for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.

It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.

Manufacturing consent

Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. "Persona management software" can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual "people" could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.

You could call it a virtual flash mob, or a digital "Brooks Brothers Riot," so to speak: compelling, but not nearly as spontaneous as it appears.

That's precisely what got DailyKos blogger Happy Rockefeller in a snit: the potential for military-run armies of fake people manipulating and, in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.

4.0 ·
1


Love Films For Action? 

Films For Action empowers citizens with the information and perspectives essential to creating a more just, sustainable, and democratic society.

If you feel like you get some value from this library, consider making a donation today. Every little bit helps.

Trending Today
The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theory
22 min9,562 views today ·
Native American Girls Describe the Real History Behind Thanksgiving
2 min7,616 views today ·
Black Friday Is Buy Nothing Day: Here Are 10 Films to Inspire a Joyous Shopping-Free Holiday
Tim Hjersted3,968 views today ·
In the Absence of the Village, Mothers Struggle Most
Beth Berry2,286 views today ·
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min2,158 views today ·
Revolution and American Indians: “Marxism is as Alien to My Culture as Capitalism”
Russell Means1,816 views today ·
This Is How Globalized Capitalism Operates Today
4 min1,293 views today ·
The Canary Effect: Kill the Indian, Save the Man (2006)
63 min1,189 views today ·
Indigenous Knowledge Systems / Alaska Native Ways of Knowing
Ray Barnhardt and Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley1,144 views today ·
Load More
Join us on Facebook
Revealed: Air Force ordered software to manage army of fake virtual people