Category Archives: Thinking

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces Of Anonymous

Hacker Hoaxer Whistleblower Spy

Hacker Hoaxer Whistleblower Spy

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces Of Anonymous

 

I just completed a final dash through Gabriella Coleman’s marvelous book on Anonymous during the raucous years, roughly from Operation Payback in support of Wikileaks in 2010, through the downfall of LulzSec and related events in 2012.

Chaper 7, Revenge of the Lulz, covers the HBGary intrusion, the episode with which I am most familiar. I downloaded the torrent, like every other spectator, but then wrote a white paper that was circulated on Capitol Hill, leading to eighteen House offices calling for hearings.

Part of what stirred me was this bit of good news – Barrett Brown will be released in about ninety days. I tolerated a couple of years of snitch jacketing, primarily from white trashionalist Robert Stacy McCain. I get the feeling that a bunch of outstanding business is going to get resolved in the first few months after the election.

A Place Of My Own

I have a public presence that is maintained, this blog, LinkedIn, @nrauhauser, a zombie FaceBook account, and a bunch of other stuff like Github that gets used more to read than to publish. There are literally dozens of services where I have claimed my name, poked around a bit, and then walked off, never to return.

But stuff like this keeps happening … free WordPress blogs don’t permit dynamic content, and more and more I find things I want to do that require this.

GristEmbed

This latest random site comes atop two other things I use that pretty much demand iframe.

I just claimed nealr on Tableau Public but I can only show screen shots of things there that are much better as dynamic content, which I hinted at in Tableau: Benefits & Limitations.

There are a lot of maps on this site associated with mostly foreign policy and a smattering of environmental issues. Seems like there isn’t a way to get a count of total images any more, but I’ve used 15.5% of 3 gig of space.

NealRauhauserWordpressMaps

 

They don’t turn up much here (yet), but I have a couple Mapbox accounts and I’ve produced various things with them. Like live links to Tableau, this requires iframe access.

It’s always amusing to me to see what condition I’ve left DNS in for rauhauser.net. Looks like most recently I was clowning around with Cloudflare and redirects. I should probably dust that off, fire up a VPS somewhere, and actually install WordPress.

 

 

Thirty Three Key Hashtags

Foreign Policy Collectives: @LobeLog

Earlier this year I examined the social networks of a number of foreign policy oriented groups including Wikistrat and e-International Relations. This included probing their Twitter and LinkedIn usage. I also laid hands on RightWeb’s content and produced Militarist Influence On Foreign Policy, an exploration of the static profiles for over 300 militarists maintained by a watchdog organization.

Near the end of that process I subscribed to LobeLog, which I’ve found to be very good. Today I noticed that eight of their authors have Twitter profiles so I turned my system loose on them.

3,508 DIscussion Peers For Eight Authors

3,508 DIscussion Peers For Eight Authors

400 Frequent Discussion Partners

400 Frequent Discussion Partners

Forty Four Accounts To Watch

Forty Four Accounts To Watch

So these final forty four are people who are important to the discussion – I recognize some of them from foreign policy reading and I assume the rest are academics and policy people. The criteria here were those mentioned fifty or more times in the last 3,200 tweets.

@LobeLog Authors Influencee Network

@LobeLog Authors Influencee Network

I pasted the eight seed names into Maltego and then let my @Klout transforms work. I am a little surprised by the result – the only loop in here is the one I created in order to keep the original accounts near the center of the graph. This is an indication that the foreign policy discussion space is large. When we examine astroturf efforts we find self-referential loops by the second generation.

There were over 1,400 hashtags referenced.

1,400 Hashtags

1,400 Hashtags

My parser has improved quite a bit since the last time I did this and I quickly narrowed down to just thirty three key hashtags that were being used.

Thirty Three Key Hashtags

Thirty Three Key Hashtags

What have we learned here?

I typed eight names into a text file, issued a single command, and fifteen minutes later I had the data used to produce these graphs. We can tell which other accounts they talk to, weighted by frequency, and we can determine who they influence according to Klout. We can also tell which topics concern them based on hashtag use weighted by frequency.

What can we do next?

I recognized some of the names as I was filtering the large list and in the final I see one person I know in real life and another that I know from a mailing list. These people are richly interconnected in a fairly transparent fashion.

I think the next step will be doing this for the much larger group listed on RightWeb, but that’s taking a while as I am having to dig for their Twitter accounts. Once I have that I will do some sort of composite graph, putting in all the foreign policy people and organizations I have identified, and I’m going to try to sort them into cliques.

What I really need here are a few foreign policy watchers who already pay close attention and who would be willing to either provide me API access to their account, or run a secondary account specifically to create who’s who lists. I have considered using a passive approach, just milking public lists, but for this to work I think there is an additional level required when classifying accounts. Lists made by users at this level tend to be inclusive – all experts on a given topic, rather than breaking them down to their viewpoints.

Reducing Infant Mortality With Social Network Analysis

My first experience with social network analysis was downloading the Maltego Community Edition software. I put in an email address, ran a transform, and it showed me the associated Twitter account. A few more clicks, and it showed me the account’s associates. I was immediately hooked – the system represented things on the screen the way I envision them in my head. That was November of 2010. Two years later I took the Social Network Analysis class from Coursera and I would say that this is now a pretty firm career direction for me. There are all sorts of things I have yet to learn, but the basics are in place.

One of the nice things with this course was that it got me out of viewing SNA as purely an opposition research tool. People use generalized network analysis for everything from protein structure to organizational analysis & development. This is the bright side of the SNA coin, and I just noticed Eva Schiffer’s work with Net-Map.

Their most recent project involves cutting infant mortality in rural Nigeria. SNA isn’t always poking around in social media – the practice got its start in the social sciences decades ago. People get trained in Net-Map and then they go out and collect information on organizations by hand, in this case visiting all the people who provide funds and deliver health services in the Nigerian state of Katsina.

Manual Net-Map

Manual Net-Map

This electronic drawing of the manual map shows what they are doing – identifying actors and the flows of money and influence that effect how health care is delivered.

Electronic Version Of Manual Net-Map

Electronic Version Of Manual Net-Map

The entire study is thirty one pages and it contained a lot of detail on how they sorted out the force vectors between nodes – in English, how they determined how much and what type of influence each of the various actors exerted on the others. The systems I am using right now have the ability to label, color, and weight links, and I have written a bit of code to include a time component to Twitter mentions, slowly aging them down to a minimal value, which produces a more accurate graph of current conditions.

A social network graph can save a mother and her child. Maybe next it can reduce the number of children she has from five to three, getting down towards replacement numbers. And another graph could help yield clean water, while a crop map made by a western built drone could identify troubles before they became food security problems. Many of the troubles on the maps I curate are related to having too many people and not enough water or arable land. If we can ensure the safety of infants and mothers that is a step towards ensuring the safety of whole societies. And that is a brighter future for all of us …

Organization, Relationship & Contact Analyzer

I am not sure where I noticed the Social Network Intelligence Analysis to Combat Street Gang Violence paper, as it’s sat on my desktop for at least a week. I read it last night and it’s an interesting take on applying social network analysis to gang membership.

The method employed requires three steps and they chose their own language to define them, avoiding standard terminology from SNA and graph theory. This appears to have been done both as a branding exercise, and to avoid offering a whole paragraph of industry specific word salad to law enforcement management when describing the concepts.

  • Determining Degree Of Membership
  • Identifying Seed Sets
  • Identifying Ecosystems

First, they have to identify members, and this is not like dealing with police officers, who are either active or retired. Gangs have hardcore members, associate members, and occasionally someone’s cousin from out of town is at the wrong party and gets arrested with some genuine bad guys. They used a pagerank like method, assigning a 1 to those who are avowed members (admissions, tattoos, etc) and a 0 to unknowns. Degree of membership was based on the number of arrests with known members.

Second, they seek to identify what they call ‘seed sets’, and this graphic shows a stepwise deconstruction of a network using the removal of low betweenness nodes, until there are a set of link free nodes. Like the membership calculation, there isn’t a pre-existing specific name for this process, but it’s instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever applied SNA to counter-insurgency. They use language from epidemiology to characterize the motivation – they’re not seeking fixers/facilitators, which is what high betweenness nodes can represent, they’re hunting the group of leaders who can plant a new tactic across the entire gang if all of them adopt it.

TIP_DECOMP Algorithim

TIP_DECOMP Algorithim

Third, they ‘map the ecosystem’ of the gang. This involves applying the Louvain partition to the network. I had never seen this name before, but the single parameter is similar to Gephi’s tuning, I checked, and Louvain is mentioned in their implementation.

Tunable clusters of algorithms like this began appearing in tools I use about a year ago – Maltego Radium provides ‘machines’, named collections of common tasks involved in certain sorts of profiling. The system also permits development of new machines. Gephi is an open, exploratory environment that permits plugin development but I haven’t seen any counter-insurgency type work being done with it. Sentinel Visualizer is specifically LE/counter-insurgency but the customization there happens via the open access to its back end database.

This is another piece of proof that there is a market for this sort of work – a mix of subject matter expertise, social science/statistician, and hackerish handler of data. I am going to keep an eye on the market progress of ORCA so I can better understand how an eight page paper evolves into a finished product.

Greater This, Former That

I see that fifty of you think what I write is important enough that you subscribe. Longtime readers understand that when something attracts my eye and I can’t express what I see in words I will work my way around the perimeter, writing about what is known.

IMG & Greece: Institutional Monstrous Failure caught my eye earlier, it’s one of those things in my feed where the title leaps off the page. Some of you are new and will not recall that The Oil Drum and The Automatic Earth once held my attention and shaped my thinking. I might not always say it, but climate change, liquid fuel availability, and their implications regarding our financial sector color everything that I write.

The Mideast has suffered through three imperial dissolutions in the last century. The Ottomans took a tumble starting around 1800 and ending in the 1920s. The Soviet Union arose around the time they ended, then came apart after bleeding out trying to control Afghanistan. The United States was baited into the same trap just ten years after the Soviet implosion. Exceptional Americans and their unwarranted opinions aside, everyone else is starting to grasp that this is an epochal change, as we bankrupted not just our financial system but the environment and our energy sources, too.

Here are the Ottoman losses from 1807 until the formation of Modern Turkey in 1924.

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

The Ottoman opponent in Europe was the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Austro Hungarian & Ottoman Conflict

Austro Hungarian & Ottoman Conflict

Neither entity survived World War I.

Europe Empires 1914

And we were left with a muddle of ethnic groups and lines on a map in the Balkans.

Balkans Ethnic Groups

Balkans Ethnic Groups

Greece made steady gains at the expense of the Ottomans.

Greek Gains & Ottoman Losses

Greek Gains & Ottoman Losses

Greater Syria, last represented whole by the French Syrian mandate, lost the Sanjak of Alexandretta to the Turks in 1939 and Lebanon gained independence, albeit with frequent meddling, starting in 1943. The Golan Heights were claimed by Israel in 1967, securing their northeast border and the headwaters of the Jordan river.

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

Greater Serbia, more a theory than history, raised its ugly head right after the Soviet dissolution and the idea was finally smashed to bits in Operation Noble Anvil in 1999.

Greater Serbia

Greater Serbia

The Only Red Line That Matters described the one potentially violent fault line between two NATO countries – the dispute between Greece and Turkey over the island of Cyprus, under UN observation for the last forty years.

Cyprus& British Overseas Territories

Cyprus& British Overseas Territories

Russia does not wish to be excluded from the Mediterranean and the loss of their naval supply station at Tartus will do just that. Greek Cypriots have many Russian ties, their recent banking implosion was a diplomatic issue, and Russia may see Limassol as a fallback position if Tartus becomes untenable.

Stepping back to see the whole region, Russia was left feeling duped by the NATO effort in Libya, which was pitched as a no fly zone and then turned into a much more invasive armor plinking exercise. This won’t be repeated in Syria.

What comes next?

This is the big unknown. Here are some things I do know.

  • As above: environment, energy, and economy are all going through an epochal change
  • The U.S. government has been wholly captured by the financial sector and a chorus of a dozen far right think tanks drown out any hint of reality based assessment
  • The media has abdicated its role as the fourth estate – count on them to miss most of what matters and mishandle the rest
  • Whatever promise social media held in remedying big media’s failure is being poisoned by a mixture of corporate & government fiddling and the simple fact that we have no experience in dealing with what is coming
  • 2012 has come and gone, “Worst. Apocalypse. Ever” became a punch line, and the destructive dynamic of Islam’s internal divide matters far more than any discredited end of days myth.

Reality trumps religion. Reality trumps rhetoric, no matter what the underlying ideology. Reality supports exponential growth in closed systems … but only until the limits are reached. The European union has found the edge of their petri dish – tiny Cyprus sneezed and the whole continent’s banking sector was instantly hospitalized with pneumonia. The U.S. is contracting, declining, and Europe is just half a step behind us.

I think what is needed is a graph like the one below, showing the progression of imperial alliances leading up to World War I, only recast for Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle in the Mideast, and it has to factor in the outer ring of global players such as the U.S., Russia, China, and the European Union. I may have a go at doing this if I can figure out which tool to use to express the concepts.

European Imperial Network 1872-1907

European Imperial Network 1872-1907

A Streetcar Named Democracy

Ten years ago Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan famously quipped “Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off.” This was meant to prod Turks into thinking about their form of government, but the quote is applicable, albeit displeasingly so, for other situations in the Mideast.

Global Islam Sects

Global Islam Sects

The differences between the Sunni majority and the Shia and other related derivative sects are something of an analog to the split between Protestants and the Catholic church between four and five hundred years ago. Christendom fought it out, coming to the separation of church and state as a solution to the conflict. Islam is six hundred years newer than Christianity and they have not yet had such a resolution.

Our society, with the Wars of Reformation long over and four hundred years of English liberalism as a foundation, has an expectation of what democracy means – a pluralist government with regular elections that enforces the rule of the law. What we are seeing in Egypt today is that the Muslim Brotherhood viewed democracy in the way Erdogan represented it; they rode it past the removal of a compliant strongman, then wanted to hop off at the “majoritarian Islamist” stop. What happened there a few days ago fits the definition of a coup, but our definition might be in need of an update.

Syrian Alawites, facing a loss of control of the country and an aggressive, majoritarian Sunni insurgency funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are suddenly interested in democracy – a peaceful, pluralist government strikes them as a better deal than payback for years of oppression at the hands of the Assad regime. If you ask any policy maker outside of the Arabian peninsula you would get a heartfelt “YES!” if you could point the way to achieving this. The conflict has already spilled into Lebanon, once part of Greater Syria, and it’s starting to draw would-be jihadis from across Europe, who can make it as far as Turkey without needing a visa. The border is porous and policy makers fret about radicalized jihadists returning home as hardened urban guerrillas after spending time in Syria.

Trying to see the Mideast as we saw eastern Europe during the Cold War – as a place that needed and wanted to be liberated, is fundamentally incorrect. Islam is the substrate upon which societies there are built, and we have to see things as they are, not through some simple minded lens of western rhetoric. Egypt’s coup may be the clean, well lit, safe stop for its people. If we insist on enforcing our idea of what democracy means we could well be compelling the Egyptians towards something similar to what is happening in Syria, and no one wants to face that.

I see varying opinions on this, some simple minded and knee jerk, while others are carefully measured positions by those who have traveled and worked in the region. The only consensus I see right now is that rushing to judgment could have grim consequences.