Think Edward Snowden placed significant spy information in the public domain? How about searching through LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) to get the real dirt. Just ask Christopher Soghoian with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology project. Searching LinkedIn profiles and posts over the past years has turned up a variety of details on classified NSA activities.
In the spring of 2013, when the Washington Post reported on details about various NSA’s secret programs code named Marina, Mainway and Nucleon, Soghoian followed up by providing details on LinkedIn profiles of people who worked on the projects. He didn’t uncover the information through secret spy methods, but rather conducted a simple using the public search engine.
But Soghoian’s efforts also came in handy when the Wall Street Journal published a piece on the FBI’s growing use of computers to spy on suspects. The report detailed how FBI hacking tools can remotely activate the microphones on phones using Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL)( NASDAQ:GOOG)’s Android software to record conversations, and it can do the same with laptop computers, the report noted.
“People should understand that local cops are going to be hacking into surveillance targets,” Soghoian said in the WSJ article. “We should have a debate about that.”
Speaking at a Defcon technology conference, Soghoian identified the FBI unit hacking into suspects computers and phones as the “Remote Operations Unit.” The FBI unit was identified not by a whistleblower, but on a LinkedIn profile. “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.
To find NSA operatives on LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD), type in the names of the covert operations, Soghoian recommends. This could include Nucleon, Dishfire, Octave, Pinwale, Mainway, Banyan, Marina, Cultweave, XKeyscore and Trafficthief.
Conducting this test himself, Soghoian recently searched on Linkedin and found 48 profiles matching the Dishfire project, 18 publically mentioning XKeyscore and 74 mentioning Pinwale. Speculation was that all worked in the intelligence industry.
Fabio Pietrosanti from the Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights may have taken Soghioan’s concept one step further. Working with M.C. McGrath they began a search for classified program names and ultimately developed a computer program called “Scraper” to search LinkedIn for NSA programs, contractors or jargon.
McGrath created a graphic that shows how the programs relate to each other and the government agencies who operate the secret spy missions.
“People mention the level of security clearance they have, so it’s possible to learn the security clearance you need for some of these programs based on this data,” McGrath said in a report. “You can also uncover new program names.”