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Hacking Online Polls and Other Ways British Spies Seek To Control the Internet 117

Posted by samzenpus
from the learning-to-troll dept.
Advocatus Diaboli writes The secretive British spy agency GCHQ has developed covert tools to seed the internet with false information, including the ability to manipulate the results of online polls, artificially inflate pageview counts on web sites, "amplif[y]" sanctioned messages on YouTube, and censor video content judged to be "extremist." The capabilities, detailed in documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, even include an old standby for pre-adolescent prank callers everywhere: A way to connect two unsuspecting phone users together in a call. The tools were created by GCHQ's Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), and constitute some of the most startling methods of propaganda and internet deception contained within the Snowden archive. Previously disclosed documents have detailed JTRIG's use of "fake victim blog posts," "false flag operations," "honey traps" and psychological manipulation to target online activists, monitor visitors to WikiLeaks, and spy on YouTube and Facebook users.

Hacking Online Polls and Other Ways British Spies Seek To Control the Internet

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  • It's worked, too (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kruach aum (1934852) on Monday July 14, 2014 @05:38PM (#47451571)

    Whenever I saw someone write something retarded on the internet in the past, I just chalked it up to the person in question genuinely being retarded. The idea that a government agency might intentionally be contributing retardation to poison genuine discussion seemed ridiculous on the face of it. Now, every time I read something and think "no one can really be that stupid, can they?" I've begun to wonder. Maybe no one CAN really be that stupid...

    • The secretive British spy agency GCHQ has developed covert tools to seed the internet with false information, including the ability to manipulate the results of online polls

      Right now on Slashdot, you can see the results of this blatant manipulation in the service of their sinister paymasters in the energy-saving lightbulb industry...

      • I wonder if they log the data before or after they modified it?

        Well, looky here. We found somebody who just did a google image search that just so happened to return some kiddie porn images. Off to jail with him.

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Don't attribute to (NSA/GCHQ 's) malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity. But keep open that option anyway, specially if that apparent stupidity makes you think/feel/behave in a different way, or may do that to someone else.
    • Re:It's worked, too (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sd4f (1891894) on Monday July 14, 2014 @08:09PM (#47452713)

      I have often wondered about it, but never paid much attention to it. One time I read about it, from a rather dubious source (hence I just sent it to the 'conspiracy theory' pile) was regarding heavy handed wikipedia editing of the Lockerbie Plane Crash article. The allegations were that one particular editor was either a spy, government agent or even more than one person due to the incessant editing. The stated aim of the editing was to completely sanitise the wiki article and only allow the official line surrounding the events in the article. I remember reading these accusations well before anything around the arab spring and ultimate demise of Gaddafi happened. Make of that what you will.

      I guess since the spy agencies ultimately do the bidding of governments, this may be a newer method of 'crowd control'; dictating the consumption of the masses. It makes sense as one always wonders why certain topics are far more popular than they should be. The media with the internet has much better ability in tracking the consumption of certain topics in the media. As a result, these sorts of things are easy to game, especially with the resources available, so maybe the espionage agencies are trying to steer people away from touchy issues by stimulating activity in certain inane topics.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Whenever I saw someone write something retarded on the internet in the past, I just chalked it up to the person in question genuinely being retarded. The idea that a government agency might intentionally be contributing retardation to poison genuine discussion seemed ridiculous on the face of it. Now, every time I read something and think "no one can really be that stupid, can they?" I've begun to wonder. Maybe no one CAN really be that stupid...

      It's a nonsense that's been thoroughly debunked. We ran a poll in the foremost security forum, and only 3 respondents said it was possible, while the other 9 billion said it wasn't.

    • by Luckyo (1726890)

      A good example of tactics that look a lot like what is described in the article are used by people like this slashdot user:
      http://slashdot.org/~cold+fjor... [slashdot.org]

  • Poll Results (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday July 14, 2014 @05:55PM (#47451667) Homepage Journal

    How to avoid being manipulated by online poll results

    Short answer: don't buy into online poll results.

    Polls are one of the worst methods of "information gathering" known to man, in terms of accuracy; online polls, doubly so. Not only do you have to be concerned with how the polls are worded, how large a sample size is used, and what group of people were used for the sample, you also have to consider that not every poll respondent is answering honestly 100% of the time. Take the "drug use" polls, many of which are now saying that marijuana use is up in teens. Is usage really up? Is the question just worded in a different way than the last poll? Or has the recent bi-state decriminalization caused more people to be willing to be honest in a poll that asks them if they're doing something that may be illegal where they live?

    Trouble is, it seems, is that most people will ignore flawed methodology if the result of the poll is confluent with their pre-existing beliefs.

    • Lets start a sloshdot poll to see how often people believe in these so called polls!

    • Polls are one of the worst methods of "information gathering" known to man...

      But elections, the only polls that matter, speak volumes. Salesmen know their trade... Some may claim they're being hacked, but it still boils down to free choice. The trinkets and money have no power of their own. Media polls are pure advertising and distractions that exploit known psychological weaknesses of... the crowd

      • Elections are a bit different. They're controlled, so only one vote per person, and they tend to attract much wider participation than internet polls do.

    • There was a poll a while ago - a couple put up a blog about their unplanned pregnancy, with a poll asking people if they should abort it while they detailed the process of preparing for a baby. It's an interesting case study because it was easy to watch the swing: It started off with a majority voting to keep the baby, until 4chan got wind and flooded the site - then it went to upwards of 90% in favor of abortion. Then news spread and it was reported on many anti-abortion blogs and news services, which resu

  • Nothing to see here (Score:5, Informative)

    by PRMan (959735) on Monday July 14, 2014 @05:57PM (#47451685)

    I don't believe GCHQ is involved in anything of the sort and you shouldn't either. This story simply reeks of falsehood.

    Edit: Hey, that's not what I wrote...

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      The requirement here is for the UK Electoral Commission To Investigate http://www.electoralcommission... [electoralc...ion.org.uk] and to ascertain whether those activities amounted to political advertising by a government agency. Where those actions designed to make the policies of the current Government look better, is so, then the government agency us guilty of a crime a subject to prosecution ie the abuse of government funds to promote the activities of the current elected politicians. It is illegal to use government funds for

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 14, 2014 @05:58PM (#47451695)

    http://cryptome.org/2012/07/ge... [cryptome.org]

    (originally titled: The Gentleman's Guide To Forum Spies)

    • by MrL0G1C (867445)

      1. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Regardless of what you know, don't discuss it -- especially if you are a public figure, news anchor , etc. If it's not reported, it didn't happen, and you never have to deal with the issues.

      I don't think people appreciate the degree to which this is happening. The BBC denying that white phosphorus is used as a chemical weapon by the west is a classic example of propaganda.

  • It could never happen, and yet it does
  • makes a decision based on an online poll, page count, or anything to do with YouTube deserves what they get.
    • Re:Anyone who... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday July 14, 2014 @06:44PM (#47452067)

      makes a decision based on an online poll, page count, or anything to do with YouTube deserves what they get.

      You simply don't understand how marketing works. I do it for a living (on the database/reporting/IT side of things)

      Give me the power to do what GCHQ claims to be able to do and I could get the person of your choice elected president of the united states. You have no idea how powerful being able to manipulate page ranks would be. It would be staggering, unfathomable power. They could get any law passed, any person shunned, any insane conspiracy accepted as fact. Your control of the press would be unprecedented in human history. You could tank the world economy in days, that would actually be childs play.

      • by jodido (1052890)
        I've already seen Wagging the Dog. Science fiction. It's based on the idea that most people are very very stupid. Most people who think that never include themselves, interestingly enough.
        • by Dr Max (1696200)
          not necessarily stupid, but gullible and trusting of people/businesses in certain positions (they figure they must be good if they got to where they did, and if they wern't, some one good and pure would stop them). How many people command much more respect in many more areas than they deserve, just because they have been in some blockbuster movies; in the last american elections statistical people figured out if geroge clooney made a speach in california, 60% of women over a certain age would change their v
        • Believing it's only others who are manipulable makes a person supremely manipulable. True control of self starts in recognising how vulnerable you are to outside control.
        • by Sanians (2738917)

          It's based on the idea that most people are very very stupid. Most people who think that never include themselves, interestingly enough.

          You should probably include yourself... I certainly include myself. None of us know as much as we think we know.

          To really understand how useful such manipulation is, you have to think about it philosophically. How do you really know anything? You can do scientific experiments, and then calculate the statistical probability that bad luck gave you incorrect results (and so even then we still don't really know anything), but we don't have that luxury for most of what we know. Most of the time we're limite

          • by xdor (1218206)

            50% are of below-average intelligence

            Assuming a Gaussian distribution. Given the rise of drug use and non-education in the United States I'm not sure that's true anymore.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Pentagon Wants a Social Media Propaganda Machine ( 07.15.11 )
      http://www.wired.com/2011/07/d... [wired.com]
      eg what was the Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program, ie countermessaging is now legal with the loss of the Smith–Mundt Act.
      The 'using data from the micro-blogging service as an intel source to aid" ends up in an interesting way.
      US military studied how to influence Twitter users in Darpa-funded research (9 July 2014)
      http://www.theguardian.com/wor... [theguardian.com]
  • Snowden is a traitor. We (NSA) were doing all these things to make the world a better place, and then he had to ruin the surprise.
    Remember that guy who betrayed Neo in Matrix? How he explained the whole rationale to Agent Smith, using a piece of steak?
    Remember Daleks? How resistance is futile?
    We are at the same crossroads, people. Just give in. Don't make us come after you. We both know how it'll end. Just relax. Use FB, twitter, instagram, pinterest and all the tools of procrastination. Give us the info
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The sad thing is that they don't realize that they actually cost society something important when they derail online discussions and polls.
      It is a damage that is hard to put a number on when you prevent people from communicating freely.

  • A firm hand on the rudder is required at troubled times such as these. We should gladly accept

    NO WAIT THIS IS BS, I DI

    [LOST CONNECTION]

  • by muckracer (1204794) on Monday July 14, 2014 @06:23PM (#47451881)

    The agency has been officially outed as GoatCHQ.

  • "The secretive British spy agency GCHQ has developed covert tools to seed the internet with false information, including the ability to manipulate the results of online polls, artificially inflate pageview counts on web sites, ..."

    Wow they have duplicated what 12 year old trolls do every day.

    'The ability to manipulate online polls' is usually just called 'just refuse cookies'.

  • by jddeluxe (965655) on Monday July 14, 2014 @07:04PM (#47452227)
    ...this explains the downward spiral of /. comments....
  • Clearly, many of you missed the short PBS run of the BBC documentary, Spooks, which details the exploits of MI5 in the UK. Peter Firth as the lead, great casting.

    Joking aside, I don't understand all of the shock and awe at post-Snowden revelations about how various security agencies around the world operate. I have yet to see anything that comes off as remotely new knowledge since the Cold War. Yes, computers have made it easier in the years since the Cold War to store, catalog, and search data as well as
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Before Snowden academic people could still spin the lines about:
      Universities and gov standards ensure good encryption globally.
      Courts and political leaders ensure checks and balances at a national level.
      Lawyers at a corporation level would never allow their brand to be tainted with extra-judicial collaboration.
      The press would find out, the data collected is massive and could never be kept, sorted.
      Shared intelligence sites are only looking at other nations.
      The post-Snowden revelations fill in the histo
      • People with a rudimentary knowledge of international economics and politics believed any of that? Much less a decent knowledge of network hardware and software.

        We can't lay large scale cognitive dissonance on politicians and government agencies. It violates all forms of rational thinking. What rational mind thinks that a government agency (e.g. the NSA) whose hiring profile is mathematics graduates and ex-marines isn't obtaining information in a questionable manner and then ripping apart encryption.

        In th
        • by AHuxley (892839)
          Re "People with a rudimentary knowledge of international economics and politics believed any of that?
          Their grandparents got mil/gov/police clearance, their parents got mil mil/gov/police clearance. Some of the second or third generation might have drifted into the private sector and became a contractor/consultant?
          Or with skill and great grades you where the first to pass a full life story back ground/friends/family face to face interview.
          As for 'decent knowledge of network hardware and software" look
  • by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Monday July 14, 2014 @07:38PM (#47452533) Homepage

    This is nothing new for the UK. The only thing new is that it is done electronically rather than by old fashioned methods (ie, bribes, cajoling, blackmail). Just about every fucked up situation in the world today can be traced back to root causes that are result of UK colonial policies and the use of "intelligence" agencies from the late 1800's thru the late 1960s (when they finally became a has been).

    • Wow, those Brits certainly are powerful. It's like they removed choice from the entire world, thus making anything that happened afterwards not their fault. People who lack moral agency are the equivalent of children or senile elderly. Wow, that's pretty racist.
      • by MrL0G1C (867445)

        Did the citizens of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have a choice when US and UK went to war with them and bombed them (drones - Pakistan), after Tony Blair and George Bush had waited for the media to ready the public for war and the intelligence to be 'fixed' (WMDs).

        'Downing street memo'

        • Funny thing - assassination is the kindest possible method of war. Anyone who uses it should be commended for only killing the leaders. However, in your worldview anything USA does is automatically wrong and you look for justifications afterwards. DRONE WAR USA COWARDS WHARRRGARBL!!!! Yeah, the US military really hates a straight-up fight.
          • by MrL0G1C (867445)

            "In my world view", bollocks, don't go assuming that you know what my world view is, if you did know then you wouldn't come up with crap like "Yeah, the US military really hates a straight-up fight."

            Actually these days they do hate a straight up fight, if the US entered a war now and as many US soldiers died as did enemy soldiers, the US public would hate it.

            • The US military would like nothing better than for the Taliban, AQ, etc. to come out and fight man on man. Instead, they hide among civilians and blow up schools. Casualty rates aren't what we're talking about, nice way to change the subject there.
      • Please read some histories of MI-6 and UK Prime/Foreign/Defense ministries. Pay particular attention to their actions in north Africa and the middle east on out to the subcontinent..

  • I call bullshit. Only the USA could possibly do anything this evil. At least, that is what I have learned from reading /.

  • seems like a good candidate for a budget cut
  • I conducted an online poll, and the overwhelming consensus was that the GCHQ was not manipulating poll results. In fact, most of the people commenting said that the GCHQ were the greatest, most honest, and most trustworthy agency on the planet.

    • In fact, most of the people commenting said that the GCHQ were the greatest, most honest, and most trustworthy agency on the planet.

      And the rest said "CmdrTaco."

      Also, for the record, I might be okay with Beta if it didn't take a solid minute to preview a comment.

  • Rounding errors, ballot stuffers, dynamic IPs, firewalls. If you're using these numbers to do anything important, you're insane.

  • This is why the volume of ads is higher than the programmes they're in. Damn you GCHQ, I don't want your new soft drink, I want my freedom from tyranny!

  • Good for the GCHQ. Just because the agenda is set by the government doesn't mean there aren't other forum stuffers and poll manipulators out there. That's a two decades old technology.

    Unfortunately the people who its working on are also two decades behind in web savvy learnin' type stuffs.

For God's sake, stop researching for a while and begin to think!

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