You don’t need to hack into a computer to learn about someone. Today, most people that I investigate leave a revealing online profile — I just have to connect the dots or the publicly available dox (documents).
Online malefactors try to do their misdeeds anonymously through an alias. Usually, they tend to reuse their aliases. It only takes one obscure use connected to the miscreant’s real name. Now I have the real name to run through the usual searches which will reveal other aliases, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts, all of which yield titbits of useful information.
Companies operating in the U.S. often file ‘Intent-To-Use’ applications for trademarks and thereby disclose the names and descriptions of forthcoming products and services six months before the product launch. Extensions of up to two years are sometimes granted if the launch process becomes bogged down.
Searching the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office will find the ‘Intent-To-Use’ applications.
Did you know that you can improve your Google results by changing the order of the words in your search statement? Try searches for “civil society” or “society civil”, with and without double quotes. Do you notice any difference in the search results?
Did you know that you can make your Google search results more relevant by changing the reading level? If your search statement is complex or the topic is complex then selecting the advanced reading level may yield more relevant sites. To make this selection, click on Search tools then All Results and click on Reading level. The results will then be annotated with reading levels as well as a percentage breakdown of results by reading level. To filter by a reading level, click on the desired reading level. To go back to all results, click on View results for all.
I use clustering search engines to build the most specific search statement possible for use in the large search engines. Carrot Search is a clustering search engine that I have added to my stable of tools. It uses Lingo3G — the third generation document clustering engine that features multilingual and hierarchical clustering, synonyms, and advanced tuning capabilities. This produces good results that are properly clustered with tabs to cluster results from different search engines, except Google.
A working group for Internet regulators at ICANN wants to close all Whois databases. They what to force anybody needing this data to grovel before them before granting access. They are trying to centralize global control over a key component of the Internet. WHOIS allows you to find out who owns a domain name. Without this data, fraud and other crimes will become easier to commit and harder to solve.
Google eliminated the synonym search feature in June. If you wanted to search your search term and its synonyms, you placed the tilde sign (“~”) immediately in front of your search term. They said nobody used this feature. I guess my new name is ‘Nobody’.
With this gone, an alternative called Google synonym Search Tool has appeared as a usable replacement.
An article titled, Tim Hortons apologizes for blocking gay and lesbian news website by The Canadian Press on Friday, July 19, 2013 caught my attention. Tim Hortons is a popular Canadian coffee shop chain.
The online site of a popular paper that caters to the gay community was blocked by the coffee shop chain as “not appropriate for all ages viewing in a public environment.”. Once the outrage got going, Tim Hortons relented and changed its WiFi network policy.
What has all this got to do with Investigative Internet Research (IIR), you ask? Well, think about it. We often work while on the road and that means doing some aspects of IIR in places like coffee shops.
When you do IIR outside your normal work environment, different rules apply. How do you know what the WiFi network allows and what it doesn’t? How do you know if some things are censored and others are not? How do you know that your results are complete?
Now do you understand the dangers that doing this presents? I haven’t even mentioned the security issues.
The Canadian Government Documents Google Custom Search Engine covers over 775 core domains at the Federal, Provincial and Municipal levels of government. Unfortunately, the search engine was last updated 10 Aug 12. A lot can change in one year.
I always use the subject’s known email addresses as search terms. I assume that any good Investigator would do the same. However, where you search matters.
Have you ever searched an email address and found that it was compromised? Groups like Anonymous and Lulzsec sometimes post lists of compromised email addresses along with the associated passwords. Do you know where to search for this and how to report it?
“I didn’t post that! My account was hacked!” is a common ‘Weinergate’ inspired excuse. If the Investigator doesn’t make a reasonable effort to search for the possibility of a compromised account, then he may be judged incompetent or negligent.
Without the co-operation of the subject, the Investigator must start an organised search for indications that the email account has been compromised.
Always search for the name of the email service provider and the words ‘hacked’ and ‘compromised’ along with ‘accounts’ and ‘email’. If you find something, then compare the date of the security breach to the time of your own Weintergate.
Next, search shouldichangemypassword.com, pwnedlist.com, and hacknotifier.com. The first two only tell you if the account might be compromised, while the last one sometimes links the searcher to online information about the security breach.
Of course the Investigator should document the search and explain the sources that were searched.
The Boston Marathon incident is somewhat instructive from an Investigative Internet Research (IIR) perspective.
News reporters are skilled at IIR — some to the exclusion of real journalistic skills if the preponderance of churnalism in the popular media is any measure. However, one instance of a reporter finding the terrorist’s Amazon Wish List is interesting. The reporter was drawing conclusions about the terrorist from the contents of the wish list.
The default Amazon Wish List setting is ‘Public’. The other settings are ‘Shared’ and ‘Private’ which seems to defeat the purpose. The default setting is the most common.
During the recent apparent demise of Google Alerts, I turned to using Talkwalker and Mention.
I found Talkwalker to be better than the broken-down Google Alerts. Mention seemed interesting, but the Web interface was not confidence inspiring and the need to download an app always makes me suspicious of what security risks that would cause.
Now that Google Alerts is working better, I am finding that it is almost keeping up with Talkwalker and finding new material in each set of results.
With the reawakeing of Google Alerts, I am not going to abandon Talkwalker and Mention — I am just going to add them to toolkit.