That new Facebook friend might just be a spy

The war between security firm HBGary and Anonymous reveals a new tactic: using fake social network profiles to gather information.

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Is that new friend really your friend, or just someone pretending to be your friend so he can spy on you? No, I’m not just being more paranoid than usual. This really does happen – especially if you’re a member of an anonymous collective determined to do battle with the forces of corporate evil (not to mention Tom Cruise, Soulja Boy, and your mom).

The ongoing battle between Anonymous and the security wonks who are trying to take it down has revealed a new weapon: Creating fake profiles on social networks to trace out the connections between you and your comrades.

[ See also: Facebook ads use your face for free ]

In what proved to be a colossally dimwitted move, HBGary Federal executive Aaron Barr bragged to the Financial Times about his success in infiltrating Anonymous:

Mr Barr said he had collected information on the core leaders, including many of their real names, and that they could be arrested if law enforcement had the same data… But he does not plan to give specifics to police, who would face hurdles in using some of the methods he employed, including creating false Facebook profiles.

In other words, to “catch” Anonymous, Barr had to resort to methods the police could not – violating Facebook’s terms of service in the process.

OK. Maybe sometimes you need to bend the rules to get the bad guys (assuming you consider Anonymous the bad guys – in this scenario it’s increasingly unclear.) But bragging about it?

Barr might just as well have smeared peanut butter all over his body and jumped into the elephant cage at the San Diego Zoo.

Anonymous was not amused. And the collective decided to exact revenge in the usual manner – by pwning every digital device in Barr’s realm, including his Twitter account, his iPhone, HBGary’s Web site and its corporate servers. They defaced the site with a taunting letter and posted more than 40,000 HBGary emails on Pirate Bay. Among other things, those emails revealed the details of a plot cooked up by HBGary on behalf of Bank of America to take down WikiLeaks by subverting reporters sympathetic to it.

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