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

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.

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.

Related Stories:

Topics: Security, Networking, Privacy

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  • Please disregard all blogs by Steven J Vaughn-Nichols. He's not real!

    No one can be that much of a literary giant.

    Or a titan of Linux based knowledge.

    Or the wise teacher to Ed Bott and Mary Jo Foley about all things related to Microsoft and it's Windows Operating Systems.

    Or the person that the late Steve Jobs sought out for advice on mobile hardware designs.

    Such a man as this could not possibly be real.
    • But, .....

      he does use his real name and picture and you don't, so he's got you beat in that area.

      Kinda backfired on you?
      • Good point.

        Some persons would interpret my remarks as good natured ribbing based upon Steven's past publications and based upon this particular blog's topic. Others might view them as crossing the line based upon their own biases. The honest fact is, both viewpoints hold truth.

        Another truth - I use my real name and photo on my twitter account and I follow SJVN's tweets (among others) because I value their viewpoints and experiences. I believe I don't waste my time reading his comments or blogs. That doesn't mean I agree with everything he states nor do I view his contributions to ZDNet as trivial.

        Are you satisfied with that answer, D.T. Long?
        • Why

          would you post your real name and picture with twitter,
          and as far I can tell not with ZDNET?

          Yes I did do a search on your ZDNet name, looks only to come up on ZDNET.
          • Interesting introspective question, Rick.

            I just watched the Armstrong/Oprah part 1 interview so I guess this must be "confessional night".

            I think there are three reasons that I use my real name on Twitter and a unique online name on ZDNet. In no particular order, the following might answer your question.

            1) I told this story once before on a David Gerwirtz blog comment. A decade ago, I spent three years in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on a Corporate assignment. As you might imagine, I made friends and shared many joyous moments with my co-workers. As it happened, 9/11 took place while I was living in Kenosha and I knew of several co-workers that took part in Desert Storm. When my time came to return to Michigan and finish out my career, I decided to honor those memories with the name I chose for my ZDNet account.

            2) It is my belief that Twitter is a more "personal" or "intimate" form of communication, at least it is for me. When I tweet or respond to tweets, I invariable know the person I am communicating with and they know, more or less, me. Grin. Privacy, at that point, becomes irrelevant.

            3) I have always had a sense of how hard it is to write published articles. The authors of those blogs or articles deserve to have their name published as well. I'd like to believe I show my respect for their professionalism by not equating my comments with their published efforts, even when I'm stating a point of view not addressed by their published works. (It is always, ALWAYS easier to post comments from the peanut gallery and good to great writing is NOT easy.) It's just my belief that by not posting my name, I'm not equating myself with them and, at the same time, I am showing my respect and honor for their efforts and to them as individuals. Note: That doesn't mean I don't or can't praise, knock or razz their points of view. I sometimes eat popcorn while reading comments from my fellow ZDNet talkback contributors. Some of the verbal jousts I've witnessed over the years on this forum have been priceless. Grin.
          • PS About that Desert Storm reference

            Even though the second Iraq war occurred after 9/11 and that conflict was named "Operation Iraqi Freedom", while I was in Kenosha I met a few friends that had participated in the first conflict called "Desert Storm".

            Tragically, both of those conflicts were very real.
          • Kenosha77a

            I only thought (through search ) your name to be maybe from Kenosha, Wis.
            Nice to see a tribute to those that you have known/served.

            I had a supporting role to those that served during Desert Storm all to a Master Sargent (Rick Lively E-8), providing short messages from Iraq to their loved ones in the US, while I was in Texas. The Army's Twitter message....

            Hopefully all those you have known are doing well.
          • You ave far too much time on your hands

            It's a post, not a novel...
          • Practice makes perfect. Grin.

            But D.T. and Rick did ask.
    • So many people on this site aren't real, either.

      I was surprised to see so many of the MS haters that are millionaires thanks to their smart purchasing of loads of Apple stock at $20 a share (they all boast about it on a lot of the MS stories). I guess that's why they have so much free time to come here just to insult the dumb Windows users.
      NoMore MicrosoftEver
      • Get real

        I've yet to see an anti-MS poster claim to have gotten rich by buying Apple stock.
        John L. Ries
        • The last article about Apple's stock drop

          That was here on ZDNet - there were some people who claimed to have made money off of Apple stock and yet also have bashed Apple in the talkbacks. My thought is that they were simply trolling and did not actually own any Apple stock at all.
      • Unless I am wrong

        I have never seen any resent claim to purchase of any stock for $20 on ZDNET.
        You must have a ink to these boasters, correct
        • Apple (Juice)

          Personally, I thank the early Apple systems (not the company, the technology) for the PC tech we have today. (You can look up the tech differences starting with Apple systems with 256 color displays while us (we?) PC junkies were stuck on 4 color, yourselves if you're interested)
          However, for many diverse and often personal reasons, I am not a fan of the Apple company or brand. Despite this I would have gladly invested in Apple if I had had the opportunity while the shares were still affordable.
          Good business sense and a positive, personal, view of a company don't have to be aligned.

          P.S. Search up my Nick and you'll find a few references. ~wink~
    • SJVN not real? LOL!

      Nice one! now let's see if this gets past the idiotic spam filter this time...
    • well

      I'm real.
      Lorenzo Von Matterhorn
    • I'm suspicious of SJVN being real too, but mainly because...

      of the obvious lack of any editing! I think this may in fact be a spoofed site! Take for example "Yes, all it took was a picture of a pretty woman, a but of chat about how they'd met partying at Black Hat,.. ". Or, "What easier way to give your fake person the shine of reality then by equipping him or her with a few thousand fake friends!". Or, "The saying you used to be that on the Internet no one knew you were a dog.", And, "Now, on the Internet, no one can say if you're in any sense, except in bits and bytes, real.". Well, maybe SJVN is real- but just needs to find a robotic editor!
  • Fake internet identity

    is a big business. Check some of the outsourcing sites and you will see plenty of job postings like: "I need 20,000 facebook likes today - Budget $10.00" and for job seekers in third world countries that may be decent pay.

    There are plenty of social engineering job posts on outsourcing sites as well. Recently I got offers from one such job poster on such a site. One was from a company in Dubai and the email notice I got offered $15.00 for a few minutes of my time (with the promise of a good review) to make a list of local places or landmarks that come to mind. No doubt that was a paid phishing scam to get password recovery tips from someone and the fact they were willing to pay for it shows how valuable it is to them. I disregarded the offer, not that stupid!
  • Don't understand the appeal of being somebody else.

    With all my problems, I'd still rather be me than anyone else. Lying requires too much effort that could be better spent on other activities.
    • Reason(s)

      One might come up with a thousand reasons, the one that always comes to mind because one can.