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

5 Jul

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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