[FoRK] Narus develops a scary sleuth for social media

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Thu Mar 4 08:26:41 PST 2010


Narus develops a scary sleuth for social media

By Robert McMillan

March 3, 2010 04:47 AM ET

IDG News Service - Narus is developing a new technology that sleuths through
billions of pieces of data on social networks and Internet services and
connects the dots.

The new program, code-named Hone, is designed to give intelligence and law
enforcement agencies a leg up on criminals who are now operating anonymously
on the Internet.

In many ways, the cyber world is ideal for subversive and terrorist
activities, said Antonio Nucci, chief technology officer with Narus. "For bad
people, it's an easy place to hide," Nucci said. "They can get lost and very
easily hide behind a massive ocean of legal digital transactions."

It's trivial to set up a Gmail or Facebook account under a fake name. The
question for law enforcement then becomes, how does it connect different
pieces of information to the same person? "It's very hard to connect these
two pieces of information," Nucci said. "We're really asking [law
enforcement] to become almost like magicians."

Narus is best known as the creator of NarusInsight, an network monitoring
device that can analyze traffic on IP networks. AT&T allegedly used a Narus
system to wiretap customer data on behalf of the U.S. National Security
Agency as part of a U.S. domestic terrorist surveillance program.

Hone works in tandem with NarusInsight. By Nucci's own admission, however, it
can do some pretty "scary" things.

The software's user creates a target profile, and Hone then proceeds to link
what Nucci calls "islands of information." Hone can analyze VOIP
conversations, biometrically identify someone's voice or photograph and then
associate it with different phone numbers.

"I can have a sample of your voice in English, and you can start speaking
Mandarin tomorrow. It doesn't matter; I'm going to catch you."

It uses artificial intelligence to analyze e-mails and can link mails to
different accounts, doing what Nucci calls topical analysis. "It's going to
go through a set of documents and automatically it's going to organize them
in topics -- I'm not talking about keywords as is done today, I'm talking
about topics," he said.

That can't be done with today's technology, he said. "If you search for
fertilizers on Google... it's going to come back with 6.5 million pages.
Enjoy," he said. "If you want to search for non-farmers who are discussing
fertilizer... it's not even searchable."

Hone will sift through millions of profiles searching for people with similar
attributes -- blogger profiles that share the same e-mail address, for
example. It can look for statistically likely matches, by studying things
like the gender, nationality, age, location, home and work addresses of

Another component can trace the location of someone using a mobile device
such as a laptop or phone.

Bit by bit, it pieces together the subject's different identities on the

Narus is still testing the waters with Hone. Working with a consortium of
universities, the company has used Hone to sift through massive amounts of
public information. "We started to collect data three years ago and we've
gone through several programs," Nucci said. "We have something like 75
million users in our system." With the permission of users, Nucci's team also
analyzed data on about 50,000 private profiles.

Nucci will discuss Hone at the RSA Conference in San Francisco Friday.

The company is now talking to potential customers such as defense contractors
and government agencies to see if there's enough interest to turn Hone into a
product. "If the market is as big as we guess it's going to be, then we will
start rolling this into products," Nucci said.

That day could be just a year away, he added.

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