Anyone running a website these days will tell you that they have to deal periodically with a certain sort of personage who seems to pop up on a site, stir up the most inflammatory drama - insulting behavior, foul language, attacks on the host or other commenters, and so on - and then "disappear," only to reappear on the same site under a new name, with the same tactics. Cyber shills.
Well, now there is at last an admission that some of this is coordinated activity, as many have surmised:
What interested me here is precisely the MO of the "virtual personality," several characters created in what one can only presume to be "mobile cyber-shill" setups, rather like the telemarketing companies of old: rows and rows of computers manned by people given a "policy book" in a three ring binder, and sites to monitor, and what to say and how to say it. And the article confirms it:
"These 'personas' were to have detailed, fictionalized backgrounds, to make them believable to outside observers, and a sophisticated identity protection service was to back them up, preventing suspicious readers from uncovering the real person behind the account. They even worked out ways to game geolocating services, so these "personas" could be virtually inserted anywhere in the world, providing ostensibly live commentary on real events, even while the operator was not really present."
All this in an effort to mine "open source intelligence":
"It's part of a larger movement within the spy services to get better at using "open source intelligence" - information that's publicly available, but often hidden in the flood of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports generated every day."
But given all we've seen about Snowden, the IRS revelations, and the political use of cyber warfare, I doubt very much if it stops there. One can easily envision coordinated "cyber agents provocateur" targeting specific sites with a torrent of "commentary" designed either to deflect attention away from sensitive areas, to plant useful memes to whatever social engineering agenda might be envisioned, or even to plant "incriminating" statements against individual commentators, sites, or to use them as "non-funded platforms" for other types of propaganda.
So, heads up everyone: expect "revelations" of that sort to be the next "big surprise" coming down the pike. The only trouble is, it's not a surprise at all. It's business as usual in the wonderful wide world of intelligence.
See you on the flip side.