I'm real. Are you? It's getting harder to tell on the Internet

Summary:Famous Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o's "girl-friend" was a hoax. "Bob" held down several real-world jobs while out-sourcing his work to China. And, "Robin Sage" fooled top security officials until her creator revealed she was a fake. It's getting harder than ever to say who's really "real" on the Internet.

fakeperson
Imagine my shock when it turned out that "sexvn wap," not only didn't really want to be my Google+ friend, she wasn't real at all!

If you believe the University of Notre Dame's story, its famous football player Manti Te'o didn't know his girl-friend was an Internet hoax. Yeah. Right. Doesn't everyone keep telling the world about the tragic death of his girl-friend... who never existed and whom he never met in real life? Leaving aside the school and Te'o's crazy claims, faking identities is only getting easier on the Internet.

Take, for example, the case of "Bob." Verizon's security team reported that they'd been called in to investigate an unauthorized Virtual Private Network (VPN) from a U.S. security company to China. Needless to say the company was a wee bit concerned.

It turned out that a programmer, who they called "Bob," had been out-sourcing his work to China. In return for about a fifth of his salary, Bob's typical work day looked like:

9:00 a.m. – Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos.
11:30 a.m. – Take lunch
1:00 p.m. – Ebay time.
2:00–ish p.m Facebook updates – LinkedIn
4:30 p.m. – End of day update e-mail to management.
5:00 p.m. – Go home

Better still, it appears as if Bob was running the same scam at many companies! What a way to make a living! 

In this case, Bob was real, the work was real, it was just that the usual connection of Bob and "his" work was missing.

With some work, building a fake online identity that can fool the pros, proved depressingly easy. Take, for example,  the infamous case of Robin Sage. Robin appeared to an attractive young woman in her mid-twenties who had ten-years of cyber security experience. Really? No, not really.

Sage, really Thomas Ryan, co-founder of Provide Security, became social network friends with people in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIO of the NSA, and several Pentagon and Department of Defense employees and contractors. Yes, all it took was a picture of a pretty woman, a but of chat about how they'd met partying at Black Hat,  and guys who really should have known better were tripping all over themselves to be her friend. 

Nothing about this is surprising. At least, Ryan went to some real trouble to create a fake online person. If you just want to pull out a credit card and create fake people, you can do that too.

For example, need a girl-friend?, You can buy a fake Facebook girl-friend from the Brazlian company, Namoro. At the same time, researchers, and spammers, have been invading Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ with bots for years.

Want to buy your own fake online identity? They're out there. Want to buy a few thousand Twitter followers? That will be $18 a thousand please. Heck, you don't even have to try to look like a big-shot on Twitter. There's a site called BuyTwitterFollowers. What easier way to give your fake person the shine of reality then by equipping him or her with a few thousand fake friends!

The saying you used to be that on the Internet no one knew you were a dog. Now, on the Internet, no one can say if you're in any sense, except in bits and bytes, real.

So, before you friend that attractive young lady—many bots are "bimbots"--you may want to really think for a moment if you really know the "person" on the other end of your social network connection. If you don't know them in the real world, chances are good they're not really real at all.

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Topics: Security, Networking, Privacy

About

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, aka sjvn, has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the cutting edge, PC operating system; 300bps was a fast Internet connection; WordStar was the state of the art word processor; and we liked it.His work has been published in everything from highly technical publications... Full Bio

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