The Sciences

Could Twitter Be a Tool for Terrorists?

Reality BaseBy Melissa LafskyOct 29, 2008 12:26 AM

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The Army has always been clever at thinking up all the vast and strange ways our enemies might use to kill us (or vice versa). Now Wiredwrites that an intelligence report is circulating containing warnings that terrorists might plan an attack using that deadliest of all technological terrors: Twitter. The 11-page paper in question [pdf] is not solely devoted to Twitter—in total, it includes the following topics:

Pro Terrorist Propaganda Mobile Interfaces Mobile Phone GPS for Movements, Ops, Targeting, and Exploitation The Mobile Phone as a Surveillance Tool Voice Changers for Terrorist Phone Calls A Red Teaming Perspective on the Potential Terrorist Use of Twitter

In assessing Twitter's danger to the free world, the authors note that the micro-blogging site was used as a "countersurveillance" tool by activists at the Republican National Convention, who used it to Tweet the location of local police. (What they fail to mention is that said local police could have pretty easily monitored the Tweets in question and adjusted their plans accordingly). The paper then goes on to lay out three possible "Twitter Attack!" scenarios:

Scenario 1: Terrorist operative "A" uses Twitter with… a cell phone camera/video function to send back messages, and to receive messages, from the rest of his [group]... Other members of his [group] receive near real time updates (similar to the movement updates that were sent by activists at the RNC) on how, where, and the number of troops that are moving in order to conduct an ambush. Scenario 2: Terrorist operative "A" has a mobile phone for Tweet messaging and for taking images. Operative "A" also has a separate mobile phone that is actually an explosive device and/or a suicide vest for remote detonation. Terrorist operative "B" has the detonator and a mobile to view "A's" Tweets and images. This may allow "B" to select the precise moment of remote detonation based on near real time movement and imagery that is being sent by "A." Scenario 3: Cyber Terrorist operative "A" finds U.S. [soldier] Smith's Twitter account. Operative "A" joins Smith's Tweets and begins to elicit information from Smith. This information is then used for… identity theft, hacking, and/or physical [attacks]. This scenario… has already been discussed for other social networking sites, such as My Space [sic] and/or Face Book [also sic].

Granted, we're no intelligence experts, but it seems to us that if government officials can map every jihadist Web page on the Internet, they can monitor a few suspicious looking Twitter feeds. Related: RB: Caught in a National Disaster? Twitter May Save Your Life. RB: As Obama Makes History, the Internet Records It RB: Want to Send Your Representative a Message? Use Twitter!

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