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Fake Facebook Femme Fatale Gathered Info From Intelligence Insiders

Robin Sage
If you were meandering around Facebook or LinkedIn, and happened to stumble across the profile of a woman named Robin Sage, you'd probably be impressed. She attended a prestigious New England prep school, got a degree from MIT and, judging from her profile picture, was pretty easy on the eyes, too. All in all, she's an over-achieving geek's dream date. So, what's the catch? She's not real.

Robin, as it turns out, was created by Private Security co-founder Thomas Ryan, as part of a project aimed at exploring how social networking could be used to covertly gather intelligence. As it turns out, Ryan's fictional femme fatale made online connections pretty easily: she made 226 friends on Facebook, 206 on LinkedIn and 204 on Twitter. Most of his online contacts were from branches of the U.S. military, intelligence agencies, information security companies and government contractors. What really mattered for Ryan's experiment, though, was what those connections revealed to his bot. Ryan claims that many of these insiders were strangely candid with his non-existent persona; some offered her invitations to conferences, others shared personal information or photos, and some even asked her to review documents.

Why were so many high-level insiders so open with Robin? Gender, it seems, played a pretty significant role. Of her "friends," 82-percent were male, while the remaining 18-percent was comprised primarily of women from the intelligence community. "It definitely had to do with looks," Ryan told Computer World. Ryan also found that educational pedigree had an interesting effect on Robin's connections. Whereas Ryan struggled to connect with people from either MIT or Robin's prep school, other intelligence or security personnel were much more willing to share their information with him.

"The big takeaway is not to friend anybody unless you really know who they are," Ryan claims. That's undoubtedly wise advice, but we think the experiment says a lot more about social networking in general. To her contacts, Robin's profile was probably nothing more than a glorified resume. They saw her credentials and her experience, and took them at face value (though a flattering picture surely didn't hurt, either). Granted, that's probably not very different from how the job market works in reality. But, as Ryan proved, it's remarkably easy to assume a different identity in a social space where who you are defined as whatever you say. [From: ComputerWorld, via: PCWorld]

Tags: experiment, facebook, intelligence, IntelligenceInformationGathering, linkedin, mit, robin sage, RobinSage, security, SocialNetworking, top, twitter