Getting scarier by the keystroke

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krogoth's picture
krogoth
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Getting scarier by the keystroke

 

What the data miners are digging up about you

 

We leave electronic traces everywhere

In today's technological world we leave electronic traces wherever we go, whether shopping online or on the high street, at work or at play. That data is the raw material for a new industry of number crunchers trying to explain and influence human behaviour, as Stephen Baker explains in his new book The Numerati.

In the book, Baker meets the maths whizzes at the bleeding edge of this new way of doing business, politics, and even matchmaking.

You might be surprised at some of the things Baker's "numerati" want to know and can already find out about you. Read on for some examples taken from the book, and click here to read our full review.

Mountains of facts

Databases know more about you than you realise. A Carnegie Mellon University study recently showed that simply by knowing gender, birth date and postal zip code, 87% of people in the United States could be pinpointed by name.

Websites can collect huge amounts of data from users. Retailers, for example, can track our every click, what we buy, how much we spend, which advertisements we see - even which ones we linger over with our mouse.

Sites can easily access your entire web browser history, enabling them to try and guess your gender and other demographic information.

Some of the links that data can reveal are surprising, and profitable. Ad targeting firm Tacoda discovered that the people most likely to click on car rental ads are those that have recently read an obituary online, apparently planning their trip to a funeral.

The second largest group are romantic movie fans - they are suckers for weekend rentals perhaps trying to emulate the lovey-dovey escapes common in romantic fiction.

The business of data

Data is big business for the numerati. US firm Acxiom keeps shopping and lifestyle data on some 200 million Americans.

They know how much we paid for our house, what magazines we subscribe to, which books we buy and what vacations we take. The company purchases just about every bit of data about us that can be bought, and then sells selections of it to anyone out to target us in, say, political campaigns.

Much effort is expended finding new ways to gather data on people. A company called Umbria uses software to analyse millions of blog and forum posts every day, using sentence structure, word choice and quirks in punctuation to determine the blogger's gender, age interests and opinion. That knowledge can be a valuable tool to people launching new products, or politicians seeking votes.

Microsoft has filed patents for technology that monitors the heart rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, facial expressions of office workers, and even their brain waves.

The idea, the patents say, is to let managers know if workers are experiencing heightened frustration or stress. Given that the same technologies are used in lie detectors and to study human behaviour, it seems unlikely many workforces would quietly accept their boss introducing such a system.

Management by numbers

Such data makes it possible to manage workplaces more mathematically. A team at computing giant IBM is sifting through resumés and project records to assemble a profile of each worker's skills and experience.

Online calendars show how employees use their time and who they meet with. By tracking the use of cellphones, email and laptops it may even be possible to map workers' movements and social networks of each person.

The results might show that a midlevel manager is quietly leading an important group of colleagues - and that his boss is out of the loop. Maybe these two should switch jobs.

Health and safety

Number-crunching techniques can look after your home life too. At the Oregon Center for Aging and Technology in the US, researchers have computers that monitor every one of a user's interactions - every keystroke and mouse click.

The idea is that by watching a person's speed, vocabulary and sentence complexity over time it is possible to pinpoint the onset of cognitive deterioration - like dementia or Alzheimer's - long before more noticeable symptoms emerge.

The management of whole nations increasingly depends on the numerati, and not just because of their role in political campaigns.

After the 9/11 attacks, the CIA made large investments in statistical techniques to track known terrorists and even predict future ones, and has relied heavily on such techniques ever since.

One of the first pieces of software brought in was NORA, originally developed to reveal and track cheats and criminals working or staying as customers in Las Vegas casinos.

 

radiance's picture
radiance
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Re: Getting scarier by the keystroke

Nice post! Krogoth  This will prove useful.

krogoth's picture
krogoth
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Re: Getting scarier by the keystroke

My love hate situation with technology continues. Love for it's what I do, and hate for how it slowly kills human interaction and controls us as a society. I stay up on the security side, and it's what I specialize in. I like to know what they are capable of.

Ray Hewitt's picture
Ray Hewitt
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Re: Getting scarier by the keystroke

My love hate situation with technology continues. Love for it's what I
do, and hate for how it slowly kills human interaction and controls us
as a society.

The web is killing human interaction? The machines have taken control. How funny.

I have social matters to attend to today, so I'll have to miss the rest of the day with Krogoth the Clown. How sad.

joe2baba's picture
joe2baba
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Re: Getting scarier by the keystroke

i appreciate your post. how about giving tips for protecting our security?

drb's picture
drb
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Re: Getting scarier by the keystroke
Quote:

After the 9/11 attacks, the CIA made large investments in statistical
techniques to track known terrorists and even predict future ones, and
has relied heavily on such techniques ever since.

Tracking down 'known' terrorsts is one thing - but predicting future terrorists? ([late night visit by DHS...." Sir, you are coming with us",... "But, what is this about?".... "We have reason to expect that you will decide to become a terrorist next week and under Article 13, of Future Criminal Code 666 you are hereby remanded into permanent custody for the security of the homeland" <click>..........later that month, surrounded by empty twinky wrappers and warm Dr. Pepper cans.. a programmer for DHS exclaims "Gotcha, one more bug in the bag!.... Time to send out revision 15.198 to the guys down the hall"]

krogoth's picture
krogoth
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Some tips

Here are some general tips for security for you, Joe, and everyone else- I know some are simple common sense

1) Encrypt all your important data with a 128 bit encryption method. Truecrypt is free on the Windows platform and works great. Remember, if you travel abroad, the NSA can confiscate your computer for no reason whatsoever when returning from a foreign country. So encrypt sensitive information or business related info. If they ask you for the key, say you forgot it. If they arrest you, plead the 5th as a refusal to answer a question because the response could form self-incriminating evidence. Only say this until you have legal representation and nothing else.

If they try and decrypt it, For comparison purposes, let’s use a supercomputer that does not exist yet that can guess 1 trillion (1 followed by 12 zeroes) keys a second. On average, it would take around 2 million million million (2 followed by 18 zeroes) years to guess the key, so let them try and break it. Tell them you just don't remember the passphrase, they will release you.

2) Never put on an email what you would not put on a post card. Sensitive data can be intercepted and is screened all the time. If its important, encrypt the message as an attachment, and then mail it. Be careful, because encrypted attachments might also red flag your message with certain ISP's.

3) When using wireless public hotspots, never do bank transactions, stock trading or anything related to financial or personal information. It can be intercepted and stolen easily, or collected with a wireless sniffer and chunked at later. Do your important stuff plugged into the Internet. It's much safer.

4) Make sure (common sense) to have a firewall and spyware plus virus protection on your computer, and update it as much as it can be updated. I use Kaspersky and highly recommend it.

5) Use difficult passwords to crack

A strong password is one that’s hard to crack. A strong password must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Your password must be at least eight characters long.
  • It must have at least one number.
  • It must have at least one letter.
  • It must have at least one symbol (!,@,#,$,^).
  • Avoid simple variants of names or words (even foreign words), simple patterns, famous equations, or well-known values.

I tend to use a name maybe someone called me in school, like a nickname or similar, combined with a difficult personal number, combined with an account number I don't use anymore, from like a bank account 10 years ago or something. I have a nack for remembering long numbers and combinations, so this may be difficult for some to do. My general high security memorized password is over 34 characters long.

6) When you use IM services such as MSM, Skype, Yahoo etc. Never say anything personal or important regardless of who you are talking to. Talk face to face if its important. Act as if someone is monitoring you and talk accordingly.

I could go on, you want more?

 

 

 

krogoth's picture
krogoth
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Mossad has been doing this for years, even worse

Israel's Mossad has been doing this data collection for a long time. The only difference is Mossad pays you a visit for suspected terrorism against Israel, and they just assassinate you before trial or anything. Quick and easy.

ds's picture
ds
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Re: Some tips
krogoth wrote:

Here are some general tips for security... [snip]
I could go on, you want more?

How about TOR? All of us with always-on broadband should keep TOR running in relay mode. Then if we wish to use it for our own communication, we can simply click TorButton for Firefox, etc.

On Ubuntu Linux 8.10 the new private directory (folder) encryption feature is nice. Knowing how to use PGP (GPG) is also a good idea.

Personally, I think it would be great if we found an easy way to spread the use of encrypted email. I can encrypt my emails but because most of my recipients can'twon't deal with encryption, I find myself reverting back to unencrypted email.

krogoth's picture
krogoth
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TOR is cool

OK TOR is great, and I use it a lot. Problem is with TOR recently people in the chain have been setting up false websites and collecting data. Similar to a rouge honeypot, but if you are one of the unlucky ones to hit it, you will think you are on the Internet when actually you are typing data that is being collected. Also it is reported that in the chain data is being collected by sniffers, so be careful.

As for EMAIL, a quick and dirty trick that you can use now is what I posted. Encrypt your message or attachments with a 128 bit passphrase, then once your receiver gets the message, use a mobile phone to text them the passphrase. Use 2 forms of communication to do this, makes it harder to trace. Or you can simply communicate a passphrase beforehand in a face to face meeting, then encrypt and they can decrypt on the other side. It is tedious for people to set up keys on both sides of emails, and you usually need to mail the key (which can be compromised) and the passphrase, or swap keys in some method for full security. This is a tedious process and usually is done with corporations passing highly sensitive data.

I was working with a company a few years back that was working on encryption based email only with a lot of great ideas to make it easier and kill spam in the process, but sadly they didn't get funding needed to carry on.

 

 

 

joe2baba's picture
joe2baba
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Re: Some tips

you da man!

what about macs?

krogoth's picture
krogoth
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Re: Some tips

Well sadly I am not a Mac dude, but most of these rules apply to macs. Anyone out in cyberspace in CM's site please help Joe with Apple stuff, because its not my bag, baby. I am a Linux, UNIX and Windows user.

pir8don's picture
pir8don
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Re: Some tips

For windows - I use foxyproxy (in firefox) with tor and privoxy outside. all free of course. Am uncertain of effectiveness but expect there are plenty of sites to check your security with.

Don

tom.'s picture
tom.
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Re: Some tips
Quote:

you da man!

what about macs?

Likelihood of you being FEMALE is 50%
Likelihood of you being MALE is 50%

Site    Male-Female Ratio

This was my score using a Mac/Firefox3 .. Prefs set to:

johnf's picture
johnf
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Re: Getting scarier by the keystroke

I don't really care about my details being kept anywhere. So long as they don't come and kidnap my children or find out I have holes in my socks.

drb's picture
drb
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Re: Getting scarier by the keystroke
johnf wrote:

I don't really care about my details being kept anywhere. So long as
they don't come and kidnap my children or find out I have holes in my
socks.

Doh! - They know about those holes 'now'.

johnf's picture
johnf
Status: Member (Offline)
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Posts: 24
Re: Getting scarier by the keystroke

damn, why did it have to be that one.

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