Take a look inside GCHQ’s manipulation toolkit (Wired UK)


GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Ministry of Defence/Wikipedia


If you were rather irked by the
news that Facebook conducted a mass experiment on users by modifying news
feeds to manipulate emotions, look away now.

Glenn Greenwald has revealed that GCHQ has developed the means to manipulate
online polls, boost website page views and automatically extract
social media data. The tools, which have been published in full
online via Greenwald’s publication the Intercept, come
from GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG). They
follow up from a series of JTRIG tactics already revealed by Edward
Snowden, including the fact the agency spied on Facebook and
YouTube users.

The list of “Tools and Techniques”, compiled in the style of a
Wikipedia article, features a few old favourites, including
distributed denial of service attacks. But there are a host of new
ones, each with its own ridiculous name. Angry Pirate, for
instance, is a tool that helps GCHQ disable a user’s account on
their computer. Godfather and Fatyak involve public data collection
from Facebook and LinkedIn respectively, while other programmes
allow GCHQ to make automatic postings itself.

Miniature Hero is for listening in on Skype calls in “real
time”, which immediately flags up concerns about the level of
Microsoft’s involvement. It was in 2013, shortly after Snowden’s
leaks first hit the papers, that it was revealed Microsoft had
handed encrypted messages over to the NSA, so that it could infiltrate email, cloud storage and web chats.

There are also a few odd tools in the document that make the
agency sound far from the professional, confident enterprise you
might imagine, including Viewer, “A programme that (hopefully)
provides advance tip off of the kidnappers IP address for MHMG
personnel”.

It is the manipulations of online media, however, that sound the
most unnerving. Clean Sweep, for instance, is designed to let the
agency “masquerade Facebook wall posts for individuals or entire
countries”. Gateway is designed to increase traffic to a particular
website while Slipstream lets GCHQ increase page views. Underpass
lets the agency “change outcome of online polls” while Badger acts
as an email spammer and Warpath as an SMS spamming system. Gestator
lets GCHQ “amplify” a message on platforms like YouTube.

The entries are listed alongside a status column, which tells us
whether they were “in development” or “ready to fire” at the time
Snowden took them in 2012. It’s safe to assume, plenty more have
been added to the roster since this time.

The idea that GCHQ is boosting the online presence of particular
videos or articles online, is alarming. It could be that GCHQ is
boosting these articles in some shape of form to engender peace, as
it sees it. But it’s also highly likely that they would be used to
a political end that is not rigidly reviewed.

This week, the spy agency is on trial at the Investigatory
Powers Tribunal (IPT) to decide whether the mass surveillance of
British citizens is justified under law. It is the evident lack of
checks and balances that has led GCHQ here, to a place where the
public does not trust that it is holding our human rights in as
high regard as it is legally bound to.

You can see the full list of JTRIG tools here, but below are a few
lowlights:

Spring Bishop: Find private photos of targets
on Facebook
Photon Torpedo: A technique to actively grab the
IP address of an MSN messenger user
Reservoir: Facebook application allowing
collection of various information
Elate: A suite of tools for monitoring target use
of the UK auction site eBay
Silverlord: disruption of video-based websites
hosting extremist content through concerted target discovery and
content removal
Burlesque: The capability fo send spoofed SMS
text messages

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Source: wired.co.uk
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