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Paul Merrell

NSA contractors use LinkedIn profiles to cash in on national security | Al Jazeera America - 0 views

  • NSA spies need jobs, too. And that is why many covert programs could be hiding in plain sight. Job websites such as LinkedIn and Indeed.com contain hundreds of profiles that reference classified NSA efforts, posted by everyone from career government employees to low-level IT workers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. They offer a rare glimpse into the intelligence community's projects and how they operate. Now some researchers are using the same kinds of big-data tools employed by the NSA to scrape public LinkedIn profiles for classified programs. But the presence of so much classified information in public view raises serious concerns about security — and about the intelligence industry as a whole. “I’ve spent the past couple of years searching LinkedIn profiles for NSA programs,” said Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
  • On Aug. 3, The Wall Street Journal published a story about the FBI’s growing use of hacking to monitor suspects, based on information Soghoian provided. The next day, Soghoian spoke at the Defcon hacking conference about how he uncovered the existence of the FBI’s hacking team, known as the Remote Operations Unit (ROU), using the LinkedIn profiles of two employees at James Bimen Associates, with which the FBI contracts for hacking operations. “Had it not been for the sloppy actions of a few contractors updating their LinkedIn profiles, we would have never known about this,” Soghoian said in his Defcon talk. Those two contractors were not the only ones being sloppy.
  • And there are many more. A quick search of Indeed.com using three code names unlikely to return false positives — Dishfire, XKeyscore and Pinwale — turned up 323 résumés. The same search on LinkedIn turned up 48 profiles mentioning Dishfire, 18 mentioning XKeyscore and 74 mentioning Pinwale. Almost all these people appear to work in the intelligence industry. Network-mapping the data Fabio Pietrosanti of the Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights noticed all the code names on LinkedIn last December. While sitting with M.C. McGrath at the Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany, Pietrosanti began searching the website for classified program names — and getting serious results. McGrath was already developing Transparency Toolkit, a Web application for investigative research, and knew he could improve on Pietrosanti’s off-the-cuff methods.
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  • “I was, like, huh, maybe there’s more we can do with this — actually get a list of all these profiles that have these results and use that to analyze the structure of which companies are helping with which programs, which people are helping with which programs, try to figure out in what capacity, and learn more about things that we might not know about,” McGrath said. He set up a computer program called a scraper to search LinkedIn for public profiles that mention known NSA programs, contractors or jargon — such as SIGINT, the agency’s term for “signals intelligence” gleaned from intercepted communications. Once the scraper found the name of an NSA program, it searched nearby for other words in all caps. That allowed McGrath to find the names of unknown programs, too. Once McGrath had the raw data — thousands of profiles in all, with 70 to 80 different program names — he created a network graph that showed the relationships between specific government agencies, contractors and intelligence programs. Of course, the data are limited to what people are posting on their LinkedIn profiles. Still, the network graph gives a sense of which contractors work on several NSA programs, which ones work on just one or two, and even which programs military units in Iraq and Afghanistan are using. And that is just the beginning.
  • Click on the image to view an interactive network illustration of the relationships between specific national security surveillance programs in red, and government organizations or private contractors in blue.
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    What a giggle, public spying on NSA and its contractors using Big Data. The interactive network graph with its sidebar display of relevant data derived from LinkedIn profiles is just too delightful. 
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