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ICG Risk Blog - [ New breed of hostile Navaho Talkers, Part 2 ]

New breed of hostile Navaho Talkers, Part 2

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Part 1

IRC gained international fame during the 1991 Gulf War, when television and other forms of communication were out in Irak and Kuwait, IRC users gathered on a single line in these countries and gave out reports to the rest of the world. The same was repeated during the Russian Coup in 1993, IRC users in Moscow gave live reports about the unstable situation.

In the absence of TV and radio broadcasts, IRC took regional center stage. (Go here for archives of some of these early 'blog' equivalents. Many have the genuine feel of battlefield dispatches.) "IRC is the net's equivalent of CB radio," but in global real-time, that has grown along with the net, with channels now numbering in the thousands and users in the hundreds of thousands.

Whereas many if not most Western readers now use the Web to navigate the net, specialized communities have long used IRC for its instant one-to-many communication and for its anonymity. Ordinary users have been joined by sexual predators, pedophiles, hackers, crackers, criminals, and terrorists. Personal handles are not identified and the hosting site may be beyond legal reach, in which case any legal challenge for transparency would just see the perp melt away.

Now combine IRC with multiple foreign languages (shifting between them to complicate listening). Languages other than Romance languages are often difficult for machine translation, and we have already noted the US lack of skilled or trustworthy native Arabic translators. Transliteration of various Arabic names into English is maddening, making identification full of false negatives and positives.

One of the terrorists, Abu Abdul Rahman, pretended to send a love message via an Internet chat room to his German girlfriend, who was actually Binalshibh. It contained more code for the attacks:

"The first semester commences in three weeks. Two high schools and two universities. ... This summer will surely be hot ...19 [the eventual number of hijackers] certificates for private education and four exams. Regards to the professor. Goodbye."

Add creative terms:

About three weeks before September 11, targets were assigned to four teams, with three of them bearing a code name: The U.S. Capitol was called "The Faculty of Law;" the Pentagon became "The Faculty of Fine Arts;" and the North Tower of the World Trade Center was code-named by Atta as "The Faculty of Town Planning."

"Two sticks, a dash and a cake with a stick down": two sticks is the number 11, and a dash is a dash and a cake with a stick down is the number 9. And that was September 11, or '11/9' in most parts of the world.

Add religious alliterations and cultural phrasing spanning centuries, tribes, and regions across the Arab world, language and dialects rich in puns, and we have a new breed of Navaho Talkers arrayed against us.

Efforts are now underway to search for statistical patterns in the chatter. Whereas many if not most Western readers now use the Web to navigate the net, specialized communities have long used IRC for its instant one-to-many communication and its anonymity. Ordinary users have been joined by sexual predators, pedophiles, hackers, crackers, criminals, and terrorists.

Using a form of traffic analysis on selected chat rooms, the intent is to isolate "hidden communities":

If, for instance, RatBoi and bowler1 consistently send messages within seconds of each other in a crowded chat room, you could infer that they were speaking to one another amid the "noise" of the chat room.

Knowing who talks to whom is the first step in identifying a network, even if message content is not known, that can addressed with a more manageable volume of higher order attacks and decryption. As message context is examined, one would expect a capture of keywords used by which writer in what order. One would also expect a number of linguistic tools to be tested in order to tease out meaning from associated phrases.

Not an easy task, but a necessary one.

A Tool for Internet Chatroom Surveillance
Ahmet Camtepe, Mukkai S. Krishnamoorthy, and Bulent Yener
Department of Computer Science, RPI, Troy, NY 12180
2004

Ibiblio, "The public's library and digital archives"
Collaboration of the
center for the public domain and unc-ch
Gulf War IRC chats
Note subdirectory for Desert Storm

Gordon Housworth


Cybersecurity Public  InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  

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