More HBGary Federal Fallout: The Government Wants To Buy Software To Fake Online Grassroots Social Media Campaigns

from the ipropaganda dept

The latest in the long line of revelations from the HBGary Federal email leak, is that HBGary Federal wanted to create software that could make it easy for staffers to create and maintain a massive number of fake online social network personas, allowing them to control virtual armies of totally fake people, whose only mission is to spy on others and spew paid-for propaganda. But, what’s even more amazing is that not only did the emails reveal HBGary Federal employees talking about building a platform for letting people more easily manage an army of fake personas, but that the US government put out a request for exactly that kind of software last June, with its request for “Persona Management Software.”

Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. 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. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user’s situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.

The request appears to come from the Air Force, and the idea is to use such a tool in Afghanistan and Iraq… but if the government has such tools, is it really that big of a stretch to see them using them in other contexts as well? While I do wonder how effective such a tool really is, the idea that it can pretty successfully build up “friends” using social media, and then use those for propaganda purposes seems just wrong. It seems that even the folks at HBGary Federal were somewhat perplexed by this government opportunity, with one employee sending around an email that said, simply: “WTF Dude?” while someone else questioned whether it could really be serious.

Of course, once again we’re seeing HBGary Federal in the middle of a plot that sounds like the script of a bad movie. Still, the question remains: are these kinds of actions par for the course, or did HBGary Federal’s boss spend way too much time watching crazy SciFi movies and using them for inspiration?

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Comments on “More HBGary Federal Fallout: The Government Wants To Buy Software To Fake Online Grassroots Social Media Campaigns”

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Hephaestus (profile) says:

Funny thing. Last week I was wondering if a bunch of the AC’s and assholes (and yes I consider myself an asshole, so no need to comment) on this site were actually the same person using proxy servers.

I noticed it because of all the BS “domain seizures are good”, “You can be safe, you just need to loose some liberties” hype I have been seeing recently.

RD says:

Re: Re: Re:

“I am pretty sure that RD is a bot (poorly written one)”

I am? Well, thanks for informing me of my lack of realness! I better let my parents and family know I dont actually exist, so they can cancel all the birthday presents and make sure I am removed from the thousands of family photos I am (well, am not, apparently) in.

My botness is sad that you think I am poorly written though. 🙁 A lot of time and effort was put in to make me, and I even attended 4 years at Bot-U to increase my sophistication. I’m 2,415 times smarter since then. Guess its not enough. Some bots just cant catch a break.

RD says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“See, you posted as the human, and didn’t let the bot run. OTHERWISE we would HAVE seen all sort of WEIRD USES of capital letters TO TRY to make a point.

Bad programming always shines through.”

Its not BAD PROGRAMMING. It’s because you have to HIT morons IN THE FACE for them to GET what you are saying. The caps are just for EMPHASIS, but of course, you don’t get that because all you can do is be a grammar nazi and COMPLETELY miss the underlying principle of the point being made.

Ditto the cursing and name calling. Its only when you SCREAM obscenities in someone’s face that they pay fucking attention to what you say. Otherwise, all they do is that dismissive hand-waving that AJ does everytime someone makes a reasonable point. Its discounted and waved off as not valid, but if you hit them in the forehead with a virtual two-by-four, you get through. Stupidity needs to be met with blunt-force trauma to have any effect.

Bruce Ediger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I cited “Darryl” as a bot on Hacker News yesterday:

The linux crowd, to a person, believes that Microsoft and/or Wagg-Ed has shills in every single linux forum. Most just believe that the shills divert seriouis talk by espousing slightly off-topic or arguable positions. A few believe that the most radical and foul-mouthed linux supporters are the shills, planted to make all linux users look like immature fan-boys.

I’ve always questioned *why* the same talking points show up within a day or two across all kinds of linux forums, but I’ve never been able to figure out why any corporation would fund an army of trollers. The Persona Management software explains this. It’s not an army it’s just a few computer assissted humans.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

How I imagine this works is … One person with 10 to 20 tabs on a desktop app. Clicking on the “blinking tabs” as new things are posted and seeing the history of what they or the previous operator has said before. Its the new age version of telemarketing for a cause.

I should crack open Visual Studio 2010 and build something like this. Its 2-3 hours worth of work. If I post it as open source on sourceforge it would be fun to watch the results. We would have to have Mike and his crew add an option to “Remove my reported persons as spam option” though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Considering that Mike admitted to having over 300 tabs open the other day… you may have spotted his actual profession!

What researcher?
Glutton reader?

That is your bias blinding you again, # of tabs open tells you nothing.
It is not uncommon to search the web and end up with hundreds of tabs open just following links.

Hint: Mozilla please I want a tab grouper.

Persephone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Mike is whack

Mike is a fukin’ sellout! No doubt has his trolls/bots backing him up here on TD.

Here is his usual dribble, this post says it all about this man:

Insider’s View: How Grandstanding State Attorneys General Make Life Miserable For Law Abiding Tech Companies

Awwwhh, poor “law abiding” tech companies like Topix, which is loaded with bots. Its a miracle he actually published this post, out of character for this tech co. mouthpiece.

Anonymous Coward says:

All it does is prove that once “social media” gained any power, someone would start working on ways to bend it and render it less useful. This is the sort of thing that diverts whatever power is in social media towards goals that might not otherwise be supported.

I suspect that this is also what will kill whatever “grassroots” exists for bands as well. Lady Gaga has already shown us that someone with limited musical talents but incredible skills to manage press, internet, and publicity can use social media to make them a star – even though few people actually seem to like them.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I suspect that this is also what will kill whatever “grassroots” exists for bands as well. Lady Gaga has already shown us that someone with limited musical talents but incredible skills to manage press, internet, and publicity can use social media to make them a star – even though few people actually seem to like them.

I’m not sure that will hurt bands. What I see happening is an increasing distinction between musicianship and stardom. Because let’s face it: the whole concept of “celebrity” is a powerful, prevalent and seemingly unstoppable element of human society, stemming from some pretty fundamental stuff in our psychology – it is not intrinsically linked to musical talent. While it strikes me as a little shallow, there is really nothing wrong with people being famous for no particular reason: it clearly satisfies a psychological need in a lot of people, so there is a genuine market for it.

There is also, obviously, a genuine market for talented musicians. But that market is less homogenous – any one original artist is less likely to draw the big numbers than any one generic celebrity, because art relies more on personal taste. What we are seeing in the digital age is way more of these talented artists garnering small-to-medium fanbases, while ladies like Gaga are the ones packing stadiums.

So think about a phenomenon like the Beatles: they were incredibly talented musicians, but they were also massive superstars. A certain part – I would argue a large part – of their superstardom stemmed from generic celebrity, not from their specific talent. While their skill was undeniable, “Beatlemania” was not caused by a whole generation having deep and thorough appreciation for their music – it was the same sort of celebrity landslide that we see today.

Now, instead of only seeking those rare groups like the Beatles that combine talent and celebrity, society can have it all: musicians whose popularity is based entirely on talent, skilled self-marketers whose popularity is based entirely on image, and every conceivable balance in between.

DCX2 says:

Re: Re:

Have you ever done any research into Lady Gaga’s musical skill, or are you just basing your opinion off of your own personal feelings about her music?

Until you’ve seen the amount of time and effort that Gaga puts into her music, shows, and outfits, you should avoid making judgments about her talent. It sounds like the image of Gaga in your head is a caricature that was created by the media, and wholly unrelated to the actual Lady Gaga. Go watch some interviews with her and you might see what I mean.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Don’t confuse “time spent” with actual skill. A 1 year old child might spend weeks trying to walk 2 steps. where you can walk miles in the same time. You both put the same effort, only one of you has the needed skills to go far (for now).

She is very talented – but not so much in music. She isn’t horrible, but she is no more talented than that. I have seen some of her interviews, what I found in them was a carefully crafted veneer, calculated and presented exactly as needed, with just the right level of self humility and aloofness to make her passably likable and yet still mysterious enough to invite more research. For those of us with a little more brain power, we can see how it is crafted carefully to give the illusion, which under it is a girl playing the system for all the money it will spew on her feet. She knows the 15 minutes will soon be up, she is milking it for all it’s worth.

If she fails, she can join Vanilla Ice doing home renovations or something.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In my previous comment, I was accepting your bias because I’m not a huge fan either, and the bias didn’t seem to be the core of your opinion (and because there are other artists who DO fit the template you have outlined)

But now that I see how strongly you hold that bias, I want to +1 this commenter for calling you out on it: Lady Gaga is, like it or not, pretty musically talented. When you want to discuss the future of music, it’s important to at least try to be objective – otherwise you slip into “they listen to the rap music, which gives them the brain damage” territory pretty quickly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

For me, she is no more and no less talented than dozens of people I have met. She can play piano and “sing”, although her range is somewhat limited and she depends heavily on auto-tune when recording.

It isn’t a question of liking or not liking the music (I think it is shallow, predictable, and dull… and in the case of her latest song a pretty direct rip off of Madonnna). It is that her musical talent alone isn’t sufficient to support her stardom. That is done through careful manipulation of the media, online and off, and through playing a character / image in a consistent manner, on stage and off. She probably learned that from Chaim Witz .

That projection of image, of attitude, and look has been able to get her some press, and with help of supporters like Perez Hilton (ooo, ick) and other media bloggers, she has managed to get in the public eye. She is a serial publicity stunt. Meat dress? Check. Nearly naked on an airplane? check. Stupid costumes day to day? check.

My opinion is one of logic, nothing else. A gimmick is a gimmick, and is usually used to cover up for the product being less than stellar.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Well she is doing everything the labels actually do, so to support your theory I believe she will also fade away like the labels that have no talent and only exploit promotion to stay afloat while ripping the real people who produce something, but she does have and advantage she can actually produce her own crap and have the managerial skills of the pro’s which could be bad in the future as people tend to get out of touch with newer generations that have very different tastes and are generally trying to avoid everything the generation before them did.

She could end up like Bono, but most probably will be like Cindy Lauper or Village People or David Bowie, George Michael and so many others that just faded into obscurity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Here are the gimmicks from 1985.


1. “Careless Whisper”…..Wham! (Anyone bellow 25 remembers them?)
2. “Say You, Say Me”…..Lionel Richie (Is he alive?)
3. “Separate Lives”…..Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin (Even I didn’t remember those people and I’m old)
4. “I Want To Know What Love Is”…..Foreigner (Ok old people don’t remember anything)
5. “Money For Nothing”…..Dire Straits (This one I do remember yay!)
6. “We Are The World”…..USA for Africa (This one too I remember)
7. “Broken Wings”…..Mr. Mister (And back to exercising my memory)
8. “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”…..Tears for Fears
9. “The Power Of Love”…..Huey Lewis & The News (No clue who they are)
10. “We Built This City”…..Starship (This was such a great song)

Source: The Eighties Club: Top 100 Songs of 1985


1. Careless Whisper, Wham!
2. Like a Virgin, Madonna (The media whore)
3. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Wham!
4. I Want to Know What Love Is, Foreigner
5. I Feel for You, Chaka Khan (I remember only one music from them)
6. Out of Touch, Daryl Hall and John Oates (Don’t have a clue about who they are)
7. Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Tears For Fears (I am afraid only tears are left by now)
8. Money for Nothing, Dire Straits (Probably being in dire straits right now)
9. Crazy for You, Madonna (Attention whore)
10. Take On Me, A-Ha (Oh the jokes)

Source:Music Outfitters: Top 100 Hits of 1985/Top 100 Songs of 1985

A-Ha! I knew I find and old joke there somewhere LoL

So in 25 years what changed?

herodotus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Lady Gaga is, like it or not, pretty musically talented. When you want to discuss the future of music, it’s important to at least try to be objective – otherwise you slip into “they listen to the rap music, which gives them the brain damage” territory pretty quickly.”

The future of what music?

It always amazes me that so many people who try to be forward-looking have so much trouble freeing their minds from the past.

Everyone that I have heard talk about ‘the future of music’ talks exclusively about pop music. And yet pop music is, in it’s entirety, a creation of the music industry. And I think that most forward-looking people would agree that this industry is in decline.

I agree that people who talk about music should try to be objective about it. But being serious about this attempt involves exposing yourself to the vast worlds of music that have nothing to do with celebrity driven pop music. And if you do that, it becomes clear pretty quickly that Lady Gaga, as a musical talent, is really pretty unremarkable.

Anonymous Coward says:

I would say to be careful what you wish for that you might get it.

Malware, such as viruses and Trojans weren’t so bad till they learned how to do it right from the spyware and dataminers.

Creating something of this nature doesn’t stay locked up forever. Once it is known it can be done, someone else will do it. It might sound like a great idea to go over and put your nose in another countries problems. The end result will be another country eventually doing the same thing to you. Once shown how to do it, it’s a matter of time before it comes home to roost.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

are these kinds of actions par for the course, or did HBGary Federal's boss spend way too much time watching crazy SciFi

Really Mike?

“we’re seeing HBGary Federal in the middle of a plot that sounds like the script of a bad movie”
Unfortunately this is real life, and this is part of the propaganda machine called the US government. I am sure this is just a little snippet of what actually goes on.

Spaceboy (profile) says:


Imagine if Anonymous didn’t expose all this HBGary data, we would have no idea that the Federal Government was interested in manipulating the public on such a scale. Now take it a step further and imagine if the Egyptian Government had such software. They could have disrupted the protests much more efficiently than anything else.

As a country we are applauding the Egyptian people for what they have done while our government is looking for ways to prevent the same from happening here.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Terrifying

“egypt … while our government is looking for ways to prevent the same from happening here.”

The huge problem with the government trying to bend public opinion via blogs and social networking is the same problem the pharma industry has with gray market drug blogging(legal else where and real drugs). People who just show up and spout sh!t for a short period of time are discounted. We have them here at techdirt.

While it is fun to respond to the trolls and shills. Which I do just for fun. The trolls and shills actions have one big unintended consequence. It makes people think things through before they respond, clarifying their thoughts. It make people see it for what it is spam.

In the end this sort of “SPAM” persona is just as effective as a nigerian emailing you, to tell you, you have inherited 25 million dollars. You ignore it.

Anonymous Coward says:

It may be useful to note that the solicitation for bids came from:

Air Force Air Mobility Command, 6th Contracting Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL.

Six companies expressed interest in bidding, though it is not known if a contract has actually been let.

Given the mission served by units at MacDill, it is not at all surprising that something of this nature might be considered for reasons other than domestic internet spying.

DecentDiscourse (profile) says:

Are there 50 facebook users in Afghanistan?

Who was this really targeted to? Are there enough Facebook users on satphones @ $8.00 a minute in Afghanistan to be able to influence anything? Or for that matter fake an identity when the other 49 users in the entire country know each other? Seems like some kind of very small elite was/is the target. Iraq makes more sense. Larger nations elsewhere makes even more sense, so maybe this procurement is a smokescreen. Speaking of which, the writing style is kind of amateurish. Has anybody confirmed that this is a valid bid and not a hoax?

Anonymous Coward says:

Food for thought.


Google Tech Talks
May 14, 2007


Much of what we know about innovation is wrong. That’s the bet this talk takes, as it romps through the history of innovation, dispelling the mythologies we’ve constructed about how we got here. This talk, loosely based on the upcoming O’Reilly book (May 2007), will help you to recognize the myths, understand why they’re popular (even if you don’t believe in them), and how to use the truth to help you innovate today.

Speaker: Scott Berkun Credits: Speaker:Scott Berkun

Source: Youtube Google Tech Talks channel: The Myths of Innovation

I like the word Chronocentrism that was actually the only thing a took from that Google talk, maybe other take something else who knows 🙂

Sweet dreams people.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Software will allow 10 personas per user”

One way we can tell approximately how many people believe X is the volume of traffic proclaiming x to be true. One person pretending to be ten people can still only produce the traffic volume of one person (and copying and pasting the same thing over and over will alert us to the fact that it’s a bot dong it and not a person, being that such tactics are easily obvious to us).

Things may change, however, as computers start to look more and more like humans and people can get computers to better argue and respond to criticisms on behalf of imaginary people in ways that look much like humans. Then again, people of all positions will probably do the same thing, the end result of what positions seem to bring the most traffic could henge on who has the most IP addresses, who has the best computer system (people with money), and who has the most Internet bandwidth to post things with (people with money).

Bot wars/arguments over various (political, religious, and other) positions could be the future. I can simply tell a bot my position on like 100 different issues by checking a bunch of check boxes and it can go on the Internet and intelligently argue my position for others to see. This could end up most flooding the Internet with the position of those who can afford to have their position most widely spread.

Attempts to censor these bots out could be difficult, as they’re coming from different hostmasks and, in the future, people may better make it difficult to decipher a real person from a bot based on IP address or hostmask and as computers become very good at pretending to be humans. Attempts to censor these bots could end up invoking people of a position to argue that a site is conducting censorship of ideas it doesn’t like.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Perhaps one way, at least for now, to curtail such bots from pretending to be human is for sites to require people to respond to captcha’s each time they post. Two problems with that include

A: Computers will likely get better at deciphering these captcha’s in the future.

B: Computers can easily write up all the information necessary, responding to who they please, and simply have the captchas sent to a person to respond to immediately before submitting its text. The person doesn’t respond to anything other than the captcha’s, the computer does all the text related work. The rich can hire more people to do such work.

Perhaps another way to curtail computers pretending to be humans is for websites to take typed text and translate it into text images for people to read on the site. Computer OCR is still a slow process that’s sometimes riddled with errors (though computers will likely become better at that in the future as well) while having sites display imaged text from submitted binary text isn’t nearly as slow (and the sites can have built in options so that people can adjust their font and color specifications).

Some new innovation that I never thought might come to being that would better allow humans to decipher a computer from a person.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fake persona software

How is this news to anyone, as any individual with an ounce of common sense knows that the blogospheres, letters to the editor, and any place on the web, are filled with fake persona already. I happen to have pounds of common sense and can spot a Liberal masquerading as a Conservative, a seminar caller to a radio station, and Democratic Talking Points, having honed my intuitive abilities by listening to the “fake” news anchors at ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN back in the Clinton years, spewing the exactly worded phrases every single day. One example would be use of the word “gravitas”. I heard a dozen anchors use the same word disparagingly in multiple montages, and I only had to use micrograms of Common Sense for that episode of repetitive Bush bashing.
Folks, Liberals only comprise 15% of the population, and now they have to invent (lie) about how many of them are on Facebook, Myspace, etc.
The Air Force claims the Persona Management Software will be used in Afghanistan and Iraq. Really? Just how many social online networks are there in those two countries?
“Hey Kabul, are you going to the beheading today?”
“No, my brother-in-law stole something, and I have to go give him a hand.”
Obama, Pelosi, and Reid are the three biggest “disinformation” specialists (that means liars) on the planet, and don’t care what the American people think across the fruited plain.
The Affordable Health Care Act has been declared Unconstitutional by Federal Judge Vinson, and those three are still lying to YOU, and acting like it never occurred.
Elections have consequences. Keep electing liars and this is how you will exist.

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