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Terrorists and Twitter

May 06, 2009 _ 08:00 / Digital Nation Team / comments (0)

Yesterday, I posted some examples from readers of how they utilize Twitter. We've also looked at how the military is utilizing Twitter and other Web 2.0 technology. But, as we learned in our interview with P.W. Singer, our technology can easily be turned against us.

Twitter, apparently, is no exception. The 304th Military Intelligence Battalion released a presentation [PDF] in October last year examining how terrorists might harness mobile-to-web and web-to-mobile technologies. The report analyzes how terrorists utilize mobile phone interfaces as propaganda, GPS mapping for targeting attacks and voice-altering technology to avoid detection. Follow this, it presents three hypothetical scenarios of how terrorists might employ Twitter:

Scenario 1: Terrorist operative "A" uses Twitter with (or without) using a cell phone camera/video function to send back messages, and to receive messages, from the rest of his cell. Operative "A" also has a Google Maps Twitter Mash Up of where he is under a code word for other members of his cell (if they need more in-depth directions) posted on the WWW that can be viewed from their mobiles. Other members of his cell receive near real time updates (similar to the movement updates that were sent by activists at the RNC) on how, where, and the number of troops that are moving in order to conduct an ambush.

Scenario 2: Terrorist operative "A" has a mobile phone for Tweet messaging and for taking images. Operative "A" also has a separate mobile phone that is actually an explosive device and/or a suicide vest for remote detonation. Terrorist operative "8" has the detonator and a mobile to view "A's" Tweets and images. This may allow "B" to select the precise moment of remote detonation based on near real time movement and imagery that is being sent by "A."

Scenario 3: Cyber Terrorist operative "A" finds U.S. Army Smith's Twitter account. Operative "A" joins Smith's Tweets and begins to elicit information from Smith. This information is then used for a targeting package (targeting in this sense could be for identity theft, hacking, and/or physical.) This scenario is not new and has already been discussed for other social networking sites, such as My Space and/or Face Book.

These scenarios are simply hypothetical, however. So far, the report says, Twitter has only been used for propaganda: "Twitter is already used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives. For example, there are multiple pro and anti Hezbollah Tweets." As Noah Shachtman reported on Wired's Danger Room, there's probably not much to worry about:

Steven Aftergood, a veteran intelligence analyst at the Federation of the American Scientists, doesn't dismiss the Army presentation out of hand. But nor does he think it's tackling a terribly seriously threat. "Red-teaming exercises to anticipate adversary operations are fundamental. But they need to be informed by a sense of what's realistic and important and what's not," he tells Danger Room. "If we have time to worry about 'Twitter threats' then we're in good shape. I mean, it's important to keep some sense of proportion."

We examine the issue of terrorists using technology in greater detail in our "Digital Warriors" military feature. You can find this reporting in the selection of text tabs below the video player. This is a section of the site that's easy to miss, but I encourage you to check it out. We expand on the the reporting presented in the videos and provide background to the issues at hand. We've just added some additional tabs, including sections on drones, virtual simulations used to train the troops and military video games.

Hat tip: Wired

-Jeff

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posted February 2, 2010

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