NSA gathering data from social media, also – so is everyone else

I previously posted about my intention to do a digest / tear down talk on the ongoing NSA leaks / public discussion for the local security group. Unfortunately, this intention keeps getting sidetracked by new releases and articles. The difficulty and frustration in tracking, digesting, and distilling all these posts stems from the sensational nature of the prose coupled with the sketchy details of the documents released to support the various reporter narratives.  Take the Fantastico reporting  which Bruce Schneier also comments on. The screenshots and other materials these reports are based on seem primarily to be powerpoint presentations; in this case, Fantastico is talking about a Man in the Middle (“MITM”) attack evidenced by a highly sophisticated power point slide (sarcasm). This crude drawing tells us nothing substantial about what is going on other than a generic MITM attack. In fact, that slide doesn’t even indicate if the traffic was encrypted. A MITM attack where the NSA had a compromised or forged google SSL certificate would be interesting, but one where they just added a route to the routing table for google traffic is not even interesting from a technical perspective – sure, it is very interesting on a policy level, but not even C for effort on the technical side.

There are other reports discussing SSL interception and/or potential intentionally introduced weaknesses in various encryption standards and/or their default settings. If those types of issues were implicated in the above MITM slide, that would be worth talking about – but therein is my point. The media coverage is screaming the sky is falling, but those holding the Snowden documents are very stingy in releasing enough of them to corroborate the technical merits of their assertions. Clearly, there is enough out there now to warrant an open public discussion on privacy, legal protections for civil liberties, and the internet generally in context of the NSA’s work, but the echo chamber the media is currently screaming in does not make objective analysis easy (especially with so little primary source information).

Finally, some of the ‘revelations’ are not even new. The new brouhaha is over the NSA gathering data from social media networks for data mining purposes and to aggregate with other data sources. This is not even a revelation nor a secret – we know that, they specifically asked for it in the 2013 Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program (Research Topic 12.9) – which I actually applied for way back in December 2012! (Too bad my proposal wasn’t accepted, but if you 3 letter types change your mind, give me a ring!)

12.9. Methods and Techniques for Big Data Analysis of Social Media
Proposed Research Project:
The goal of this proposal is to advance intelligence analysis by adapting existing methodologies/ practices and developing new, more effective quantitative methodologies for big data analysis of social media data. Possible research may include an examination, extension, and/ or implementation of the ideas and strategies already developed in government, industry and academia to include research findings from programs such as Social Media in Strategic Communication, DEFT, and XDATA (DARPA), Open Source Indicators (IARPA) and Social Media Dashboard (ONR).
Technical Objectives:
• Content – Advance the state-of-practice for mining social media for building an intelligence picture applicable to areas such as indications and warning; sentiment analysis; decision-making; strategic, operational, and tactical analysis; operations planning, etc. Potential areas of emphasis include the following: (1) Modeling diffusion of information across social media networks and geographic locations to project the rate and location of the diffusion over time. (2) Modeling to predict the future time and place of an individual or group of individuals using social media with varying degrees of geolocational accuracy.
• Materials – Develop a method to evaluate and compare available data sources and existing tools for sentiment/text mining of social media and fusion. Identify gaps where new tools could be used effectively, report and present findings and proposed way ahead to a working group of subject matter experts. Develop innovative solutions against the gaps. This may involve research in mining large data sets, human factors, machine and other techniques for translating social media from foreign languages, systems-of-systems and network analysis, and behavioral and cognitive psychology.
• Presentation – Discover optimal methods for creating and presenting a fused intelligence picture that better reflects ground truth for use by other analysts and potentially operators/decision-makers. This may involve research into understanding complex problems and environments and then breaking down identities and relationships into simplified components to provide clear, practical analysis.
Possible outcomes from this research include a white paper describing the research in these areas. Proposals should discuss potential approaches of research and application to actual data. For more information on topic 12.9, submit inquiries per the procedures in Section 5.2 of this Research Solicitation.

That the intelligence community was/is pursuing this line of research is not surprising, partly because they solicit research proposals asking for it.

Posted in Computer Science, News & Commentary Tagged with: , , , ,

LinuxCon 2013

This week LinuxCon (http://events.linuxfoundation.org/events/linuxcon-north-america) is in New Orleans. I have to say, I have mixed feelings about the program thus far. On one hand, the keynotes have been very upbeat and interesting with a lot of positive energy from the speakers and the crowd regarding the future progress of Linux. On the other hand, the breakout panels seem to be very lack luster – a sentiment I arrived at by comparing my own experiences with some of my colleagues. As someone used to attending academic conferences rather than conventions, I am used to more technical details and meaty discussion than I experienced here. My expectations may have been too high, but it does seem most of the talks are really thing veneers of legitimacy over sales pitches.


Frank Karlitschek of ownCloud (http://owncloud.org/) gave a talk entitled “Living in a Cloudy Post-PRISM World” which billed itself as discussing the trend of bringing cloud technologies back in-house and discussing the implications of privacy and security. The talk was severely disappointing and light on details. It touched on some of the more sensational headlines going around in regard to what encryption the NSA may or may not have compromised, but treated numerous encryption protocols as failed rather than discussing anything in depth.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Fall Changes

Now that the bar exam is over and my life is returning to normal, I am in the process of converting this space back into what it started as – a professional / research blog. Staying on target during the summer for bar review was excruciating given the gravity of the various NSA leaks, revelations, and eventual declassified FISA opinions. Every new leak, document, or public comment gave me the itch to write something about it given that my smart devices privacy/autonomy paper came out just as the Snowden situation was developing (full draft text, publisher link).

In any event – I will be digesting the corpus of what is currently out there (plus what appears in the interim) for a talk at the next NOLASEC meeting. Unfortunately, due to the Saints schedule in September, the next meeting will not be until October.

Posted in Uncategorized


This project has been in the works for a while. My colleague  Michael and I have been contemplating a cross/inter-disciplinary journal to examine technology intersections with various other fields. We finally signed the Memorandum of Understanding with Tulane University to host the journal, and are launching the call for papers and a call for reviewers. Most of the information can be found on the journal website, but the CFP/CFR information is reproduced below:

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Posted in Digital Forensics, Law, Publications, Security


The light at the end of the tunnel draws nigh. It is hard to believe over the past 12 years I’ve balanced,  at various times, full time jobs in the corporate world, RA/PI positions, self-funded/independent research, 4 degrees (B.S., M.S., Ph.D., J.D. [May, 2013]) and a few certificates, company formations / partnerships, and continuing expert witness / digital forensics work.

This semester, my supposed ‘easy’ semester, has been dominated with some interesting issues collaborating in a mini session dealing with the US Copyright Office’s inquiry into Orphan Works. Our working group declined to submit a comment, but rather waited to submit a reply comment, and our 100+ page submission (sent shortly before the deadline) is fairly robust. My own modest contribution was, I hope, informative, but I don’t feel like my portion is overly substantial in comparison to some of my colleagues who have some brilliant points of view. Mostly, not unexpectedly, my contributions often entail illuminating grey areas between technology and the law, which I hope some find informative. I’m more enthusiastic about my observations regarding the problematic nature of infra-system potentially infringing copies between storage and memory rather than the naïve metadata comments I responded to in my section.

It has been a while since my last post, but that was unavoidable in context of my existing obligations. I will be speaking at NOLASEC this month on the President’s Cyberwar/security executive order; that should prove a fertile ground for comment and generate another relevant post.

In other news; a friend and  colleague of mine and I are working on launching a new peer reviewed journal dealing with cross-disciplinary issues involving technology intersecting with law, philosophy, ethics, public policy, politics, etc through Tulane’s new open access publication platform. We are still in the planning stages, but are on track to launch the call for papers by the end of this semester. Very exciting stuff.

Until next time.

Posted in Computer Science, Law, Publications