Domestic Extremist? Or Something Else?

What does this site say to you at first glance?

patrioticfreedomfighter[.]com
patrioticfreedomfighter[.]com
This is one of nearly two dozen sites pushing fringe right wing views that are all associated with Mark Edward Baker, as detailed in this story by McClatchy. When I first heard of this the initial thought was that something so slippery could be a foreign influence operation. I came to a much different conclusion, but it took many hours of digging.

Here are the full list of domains involved:

1776christian[.]com

americangunnews[.]com

americanlibertyreport[.]com

americanviralheadlines[.]com

christianpatriotdaily[.]com

conservativezone[.]com

factsnotmemes[.]com

financialmorningdigest[.]com

firearmdaily[.]com

freedomnewsreport[.]com

frontpagepatriot[.]com

healthiervideos[.]com

liberalliedetector[.]com

libertyplanet[.]com

libertyvideonews[.]com

memesorfacts[.]com

nationalgunnetwork[.]com

patrioticfreedomfighter[.]com

patrioticviralnews[.]com

readytofirenews[.]com

uspoliticsandnews[.]com

wealthauthority[.]com

The physical plant for this is a circus – 434 unique IP addresses and they all seem to be tied to the operation.

Mark Edward Baker Internet Footprint
Mark Edward Baker Internet Footprint

A simpler exam of the SOA for each domain yielded a deeper clue in the form of the [email protected] address used for registration. It’s connected to another cluster of domains.

gomarkb@gmail.com domains
[email protected] domains

We are not going to revisit the merry chase this guy provides – fire up hunch.ly and go at it. He uses the alias Mark Bentley, be on the lookout for LOP, which is short of League of Power, and his wife Jennifer is a signatory on some of the paperwork. He has at least half a dozen PO boxes in Florida and a similar setup in Reno, Nevada, which appears to he his origin. Once I was sure I had a real name, I was more interested in what his business model is and if there were any foreign ties.

If you poke around for League of Power you’ll find complaints about his $27 scam work from home DVD. This guy’s ideology is getting other people’s money and providing little to nothing in return. This is pretty common to see on both sides of the aisle – grifters working the earnest, but naive masses. This guy clearly focuses on the right – different skills are needed to run a similar game against the left.

Here is the one image that more or less sums up what he is doing:

Mailgun Usage
Mailgun Usage

You would have to be in the business of examining attribution resistant hosting to notice this, but it was like a flashing neon sign for me. Domains that don’t want to be traced typically have no email handling at all. This guy’s business model is list building, which he’ll use for maybe some political stuff, but it will be an ongoing bulk mail target after the election.

 

What about foreign influence being behind this? The article mentions that conservativezone[.]com[.]com had been used. That’s a spearphishing move. It resolves to these geniuses:

conservativezone[.]com[.]com
conservativezone[.]com[.]com
What is AS206349? A dinky autonomous system in Bulgaria with a history of IP address hijacking. Baker got some service from these guys, but it wasn’t anything he wanted to receive. The may have noticed he was gathering lists of the easily duped and decided this would be a good phishing hole for them.

 

People who are way into the bipolar politics in the U.S. tend to judge things as either on their side, or the opposition. There are nuances on that spectrum that get ignored, foreign influence, weird cyberstalker types, and just outright fraud, like we’re seeing here. Don’t jump to sticking a red or blue label on something until you’ve had a good chance to inspect it and conjure up some alternate theories.

Russian Infrastructure, Domestic Threats

Let’s take a look at a curious thing in RiskIQ – the October 22nd registration for the 0hour1[.]com domain.

0HOUR1 Registration
0HOUR1 Registration

The nameservers at westcall[.]ru are part of a large ISP in St. Petersburg. The registrant’s trail is an intentional mess, but lets see what we can find on Brian Durant. It’s helpful to know his birth name –  Fiore DiPietrantonio.

Durant came to my attention because his crew are bothering a CVE researcher I know, and threatening a man in Brooklyn that they mistakenly identified as them. There is a decent Threadreader on Durant from @trebillion that provided me a starting point.

Achtung! If you choose to pursue this, you must turn your OSINT tradecraft up to eleven. The name change is an attempt to leave behind a shady past, there is intentional deception at work prior to the politics, and don’t chase after a pretty face on a largely empty persona.

As a sign of how much of a hassle this backtrail was, take a look at my hunch.ly case for it. And this is the second one – the first draft had so much crud in it I found it easier to just start over and revisit the stuff I confirmed.

Brian Durant Investigations
Brian Durant Investigations

About that empty female persona … here is where it starts.

rowdypolitics[.]com
rowdypolitics[.]com
Which of these do you think are legitimate?

Meghan Thompson
Meghan Thompson

If you picked only #1 and #2, which a faint urge to check #3, give yourself a gold star.

Three Domains & Hosting
Three Domains & Hosting

I got distracted writing this and spent half an hour playing with the RiskIQ response to the Maltego Domain Analysis transform. GoDaddy is a terrible swamp that typically reveals nothing, so I collapsed it to a point to better see the other things. The westcall[.]ru nameserver mistake only showed in the registration, they caught it before it started turning up in  passive DNS. So what are these three other things we see?

192.169.82.86 is part of The Swamp – the tiny allocations in 192.0.0.0/7 that were handed out for free back in the eighties. RiskIQ shows over 9,000 names for it, Maltego finds 552, ARIN says it’s a point to point link from Limestone Networks to a customer. It’s been passed around for thirty years or more and I don’t think it tells us much. The reverse lookup is the last one someone carded to enter and those don’t seem to matter much on shared servers. Make a mental note to come back, only if all else fails.

86.106.93.230 is a European address, you can tell just by the leading octet, and with a little poking we find it’s in AS44901 – BelCloud Hosting, but it’s listed with over 10,000 other names.

What about 149.56.202.49? Looking at the times it was active we find that it had the system to itself, running what looks to be WordPress under cPanel.

magaforamerica[.]com
magaforamerica[.]com
This is turning into a common theme – people trying to do their own hosting and then giving up after a couple days.  The DNS tab provided another interesting clue that I just noticed as I was drafting this article.

videowhispers@gmail.com
[email protected]

And what’s going on here? Every time I look at this thing I find another eastern European/Russian link.

videowhispers[.]com
videowhispers[.]com

 

So … I thought this was going to be a declaration and instead it’s a problem statement – there is more digging to do here. But there is one piece of digging that is done – the ID of Brian Durant’s associate who threatened me when I first started probing is within easy reach. Check the DM that @NetwarSystem received on October 17th and the menacing voicemail from October 27th.

This “very reasonable dude” is @MistaBRONCO, which has been a stable alias for him for at least six years. It was on his Flickr account, where a close inspection of cat photos turned up this gem. Handsome boy, isn’t he?

BRONCO, International Cat Of Mystery
BRONCO, International Cat Of Mystery

So our internet tough guy who cleverly pressed *69 before he left me a message on a Google Voice number that hasn’t a phone attached to it in five years is laid low by the ol’ surname & multiple phone numbers on a pet’s nametag. Amateur hour here – stable name, personal details all over the place. This is all recorded in hunch.ly and the good bits of the YouTube channel that put the voice with this cat are safe, too.

So I’ve got a voice threat, another guy that this genius misidentified as Ca1m has received threats, the source lives on Long Island, the target is in Brooklyn. Since these are both covered by the NYC FBI field office and I was pointedly told to “come correct”, I had the following exchange with the counter-terrorism SA in that office, whom I’ve known since Occupy days.

Alerting Agent Smith
Alerting Agent Smith

That’s as correct as I can play it in the wee hours of a Friday right before a midterm in which Russian influence is certainly still a problem.

How’d I do?

 

SocialLinks: An Actual Investigation

We have a special treat today, an actual investigation and preservation exercise on a Russian company we have had our eye on for the last year. First, to understand why today is their lucky day, peruse this New York Times article:

Here’s the lede from the article for those who refuse to click through:

On the same day Facebook announced that it had carried out its biggest purge yet of American accounts peddling disinformation, the company quietly made another revelation: It had removed 66 accounts, pages and apps linked to Russian firms that build facial recognition software for the Russian government.

This is a good step, but it isn’t the only housecleaning needed.

Available OSINT

If you open the current Maltego client you will see the Transform Hub, a listing of all service providers you can integrate. This is what you see this morning in the left hand column if you open the application on a 4k monitor. Note what is first and what is last.

SocialLinks Offerings In Maltego
SocialLinks Offerings In Maltego Transform Hub

I am the admin for the Maltego Group on LinkedIn. This is a screen shot I collected this morning. Implicit in this is a violation of Facebook terms of service, the source is SocialLinks CEO Alexandr Aleexev.

SocialLinks CEO Alexandr Alexeev Violates Facebook TOS
SocialLinks CEO Alexandr Alexeev Violates Facebook TOS

The company’s YouTube page has a variety of other demonstrations that indicate similar practices on other social media platforms. I snagged a screen shot from the video, which shows what they were doing a year ago.

SocialLinks Social Media Platforms
SocialLinks Social Media Platforms

This alone is enough to set off alarm bells given the current climate. We know a bit more about this company, because I assumed their appearance on the Transform Hub meant they were a quality provider. I spent $130 for a month of service in November of 2017, setting off six weeks of curious encounters, both with them, and disinterested counter-intelligence investigators on three continents.

Our Encounter

Needing to capture some Instagram content for a civil case, I grew weary of chasing threads after I got acquainted with the players, so I went looking for an automation solution that would capture their social network. I had an Instagram account to use from one of the parties to the case, but I assumed it would be burned the minute any evidence from it showed in a filing.

What I received just plain didn’t work. Not with Instagram, not with my personal LinkedIn network, not with Github, which should be fairly open.

SocialLinks Troubles
SocialLinks Troubles

This went on for a while, at first with me sharing details of DNS resolution issues for their servers and other stuff that seemed like normal troubleshooting. When I went to LinkedIn and made contact with CEO Alexandr Alexeev, I was immediately suspicious given his Moscow location.

We had an initial conversation on LinkedIn, below is an example of how things started. We agreed to meet on Wire, and there I was asked about VPNs, provisioning proxies in the U.S., and other means to circumvent access restrictions. I played along, thinking that some counter-intel attention might be forthcoming.

Alexander Alexeev 2018-01-20
Alexander Alexeev 2018-01-20

Counter-intelligence Failures

I felt there was plenty of reason for attention on this situation, but after a month of asking for attention, no fewer than three governments who should have been interested all struck out without so much as a single swing.

  • United States – target of Russian election interference.
  • United Kingdom – target of Russia referendum interference.
  • South Africa – home of Maltego maker Paterva.

I’m not saying that I typed this all into IC3, pressed ‘send’, and crossed my fingers. I had conversations with two people in the U.S. IC community, I talked to James Patrick at Liberty STRATCOM, and I have an associate who has a personal relationship with a brigadier in Hawks, South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.

There are two ways to interpret this – either the system has already noticed and is working the problem, or the system is utterly overloaded and we are on our own. The fact that I got no response from any of the three countries made me think it was the latter. Having covered my own position, I sat back to see what happened next.

Further Cause To Act

Two months ago I met up with someone who had experiences with Social Links that were very similar to mine. I had already come to believe  I was dealing with someone trying to “handle” me, albeit clumsily, and probably seeking advice from someone else in the process. Talking to this other party hardened that impression. That’s all I am going to say about this.

Removal

As a last ditch effort, I reached out to an FBI Special Agent I know last week. They had the weekend to think it over, Monday to act, and the NYT article is the last piece of stimulus I need.  I just removed Alexeev from the LinkedIn Maltego Group and later today I am going to remove his posts, after announcing why he was removed.

Alexandr Alexeev Removal
Alexandr Alexeev Removal

Preservation & Publication

The particulars of what happened are important so I set out to preserve the details. Here are the steps I took:

  • Started Hunch.ly, preserved forty pages, both public and private. This application preserves content in an admissible fashion.
  • Launched MediaHuman’s YouTube Downloader  just in case they or YouTube decide to wipe their channel.
  • Preserved the @_SocialLinks_ Twitter account for further analysis using both Maltego and our internal tools.
  • Wrapped up the exported Hunch.ly casefile, the Maltego graphs, and the videos, transferred it to a person who will hand carry it to a former U.S. Attorney we employ for certain sorts of touchy situations.

That last bit is just for my protection, given that our President and Attorney General both appear to be compromised by the Russian government. I will not be subject to a raid that deprives me of exculpatory evidence, followed by a politically motivated prosecution.

Conclusion

In the absence of any response from the agencies that ought to handle problems like this, I guess we are in charge for the moment. If you’ve had similar troubles with this company, I advise you to back up everything, transfer it to legal counsel so that it is protected from seizure by attorney client privilege, then reach out to your local FBI field office.

I have shared the particulars with a couple reporters, too. If you have similar experiences and wouldn’t mind being interviewed on this, feel free to contact me.

Profound Tradecraft Failure: Wohl v. Mueller

Manchild scammer extraordinaire @JacobAWohl has been the center of a vortex of public attention for the last day or so, but it isn’t working out quite as he had envisioned. The scheme as revealed thus far has involved:

  • A front agency, Surefire Intelligence, with a claimed global footprint, based entirely on virtual office spaces.
  • A staff, several of whom had stock photos from A list celebrities, but only two of which had any contacts.
  • A second front agency, Atrium Private Intelligence, with a domain registered after Surefire’s, apparently existing to provide depth to the legend for the first agency.
  • Domains registered by proxy, but configured with a web site construction kit that included Wohl’s personal email in the SOA (Start Of Authority) for the domain.
  • Google Voice phone numbers, one of which Wohl validated with a real number belonging to his mother.

We are obviously publishing Analytical Tradecraft here, but Field Operations Tradecraft is another story entirely. One can not learn to tease things apart without gaining some sense of what not to do, but providing the affirmative defenses is a step we are not willing to take, at least not in the open. When we address Adversary Resistant Computing and Adversary Resistant Networking, the aim is to keep you safe in your pursuits. You will notice there is no Adversary Resistant Hosting category.

That being said, the failures can be summarized as “youthful enthusiasm”. Hertz will not rent to anyone under twenty five, our society’s firmest recognition that the neurological stuff that starts with the teen years doesn’t at high school graduation. Whatever role Jack Burkman and Jim Hoft played in this scheme, the execution was left in the hands of a lad that won’t be able to drink legally for another six weeks.

The primary reason you are reading this site (we think) is not for our slick production quality or our mastery of algorithms. You are here because we have been there. We try to keep what we do simple, rugged, and recoverable, because we are used to having too few resources, too many tasks, and not nearly enough time.

 

A Small Development Environment

The early version of the Netwar System ran with a handful of Twitter accounts and a flat file system. Today we use a 64 gig Xeon with 48 Twitter accounts for internal studies and a trio of 16 gig VPSes for botnetsu.press, our semi-public service. The requirements for an R&D system exceed a virtual machine, unless you’ve got a Xeon grade desktop.

We happen to have a Dell m4600 laptop and eight unallocated Twitter accounts, so this has been built out as an R&D environment. The system has a four core i7, 16 gig of ram, and in addition to the system volume there is a 60 gig msata SSD and a 500 gig spindle in the disk carrier that fits in the CD/DVD bay. This is essentially a miniature of our larger Xeon system.

Disk performance has always been our problem with Elasticsearch, so the msata drive was split into cache and log space for a 465G ZFS partition.

Disk /dev/sdb: 55.9 G

/dev/sdb1 28G

/dev/sdb2 27.9G

Disk /dev/sdc: 465.8 G

/dev/sdc1465.8G

 

The final configuration looks like this:

 

               capacity     operations    bandwidth

poolalloc free readwrite readwrite

—————————————-

zorp 612K 464G .   0 0 3.44K 5.37K

sdc1 612K 464G .   0 0 1.89K 4.32K

logs——

sdb2 4K .  27.7G .      0 0 1.55K 1.05K

cache ——

sdb1 40.5 . K28.       0G 0 0150 96

—————————————-

The following software is needed:

Once you’ve got them all installed you’ll see the following ports in use.

Elasticsearch

127.0.0.1:9200

127.0.0.1:9300

Kibana

127.0.0.1:5601

Neo4j

127.0.0.1:7687

127.0.0.1:7473

127.0.0.1:7474

Netdata

127.0.0.1:8125

0.0.0.0:19999

Redis

127.0.0.1:6379

A few caveats, first be sure these are the final lines in /etc/security/limits.conf or you will quickly learn to hate Elasticsearch.

elasticsearch – nofile 300000

root – nofile 300000

Next, examine the configurations for Elasticsearch and Kibana in /etc. You’ll want to ensure there is more than the default 2 gig for the JVM and modify the Kibana config so you can reach port 5601 from elsewhere.

 

We have come to the point where we must release configuration advice and some Python code in order for others to learn to use the system. We’re going to trust that the requisite system integration capabilities, analytical tradecraft, and team management skills are going to limit the number of players who can actually do this. There isn’t a specific Github repository for this just yet, but there will be in the coming days.

Suggested Reading: Complex Network Analysis in Python

Complex Network Analysis in Python
Complex Network Analysis in Python

There has been a gap in the social network analysis world since @ladamic stopped offering her excellent class via Coursera. I received my copy of Complex Network Analysis in Python earlier today, devoured the first five chapters, and I am pleased to report this book is a quality alternative to the class.

The book presumes you have enough Python to load stuff with pip and some pre-existing motivation to explore networks. Some key things to know:

  • The features and performance considerations of four Python network analysis modules are explained in detail; invaluable for those who are trying to scale up their efforts.
  • The visualization package Gephi is introduced in a very accessible fashion and advice regarding how to move data between it and your Python scripts is clear and simple.
  • There are a variety of real world examples included

The thing that is missing is Twitter – which is mentioned just once in passing on page 63. This seems like a good opening – the Complex Network Analysis Github repository is going to contain the Twitter related code we produce as we work through the examples in this text.

Making America Grey Again

The initial wave of NPCs were taken out by Twitter, about 1,500 all together according to reporting. A small number lingered, somehow slipping past the filter, and now they are regrouping. A tweet regarding the initial outbreak collected several new likes, among them this group of five:

Five NPCs
Five NPCs

And their 740 closest friends are all pretty homogenous:

NPCs: Diversity Through Conformity
NPCs: Diversity Through Conformity

A fast serial collection of these 740 accounts they follow was undertaken. Their mentions reveal some accounts that are early adopters, survivors of the first purge, or otherwise influential. 735 of them came through collection, the missing were empty, locked, or suspended.

These accounts made 469,889 mentions of others.  First we’ll look at 285,102 mentions of normal accounts, then we’ll see 184,787 mentions of Celebrity, Media, and Political accounts. Given that there are 67,000 accounts involved in this mention map, we’ll employ some methods we don’t normally use. This layout was done with OpenOrd rather than Force Atlas 2 and the name size denotes volume of mentions produced.

Many NPC Mentions
Many NPC Mentions

The large names here are based on Eigenvector centrality – they are likely popular members of the group, or in the case of Yotsublast, a popular content creator aligned with NPC messaging.

Popular NPC Accounts & Allies
Popular NPC Accounts & Allies

Usually we filter CMP – Celebrities, Media, and Politicians. These accounts are actively seeking attention so it is interesting to see who they reach out to in order to achieve that in these 184,787 mentions to about 18,500 others.

 

NPC Messaging Targets
NPC Messaging Targets

Attempting different splines with Eigenvector centrality leads to, after several tries, this mess.

Smaller Messaging Targets
Smaller Messaging Targets

Beyond the core at the bottom, Kathy Griffin, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and Hillary Clinton are singled out for attention.

K-brace Filter Level 4
KBrace Filter Level 4

Mentions are directed but the best way to handle them at this scale seems to be treating them as undirected and using the KBrace filter. This is a manageable set of accounts to examine and the groupings make intuitive sense.

The 742 accounts were placed into our “slow cooker” but only 397 were visible. It isn’t clear why 350 were missed, but Twitter’s quality filter may have something to do with that.

NPC Creation Times
NPC Creation Times

Unlike the group of accounts in yesterday’s A Deadpool Of Bots, this wake/sleep cycle over the last ten days looks like humans making their own accounts to join in the fun. Given a good sized sample of tweets, an average adult will only consistently be inactive from 0200 – 0500, so those empty three hour windows, except for the first day, are a pretty convincing sign.

NPC Hashtags
NPC Hashtags

Their hashtag usage is entirely what one would expect.

NPC Daily Hashtag Use
NPC Daily Hashtag Use

Given the tight timeframe it was interesting to look at an area graph of their daily hashtag use for the last ten days.

 

As a society we have barely begun to adapt to automated propaganda, and now we’re facing a human wave playing at being automation. This is an interesting, helpful thing, as it provides a perfect contrast to what we explored in A Deadpool Of Bots.

A Deadpool Of Bots

Yesterday in chat someone pointed out a small set of accounts that followed this Dirty Dozen of known harassment artists.

Dirty Dozen De Jure
Dirty Dozen De Jure

The accounts all had the format <first name><last name><two digits>. We extracted two dozen from the followers of these twelve accounts, then ran their followers and found a total of 112 accessible accounts that had this same format. Suspecting a botnet, we created a mention map to see how they have been spending their time.

112 Bots & Mentions
112 Bots & Mentions

This image is immediately telling for those used to examining mention maps. There are too many communities (denoted by different colors) present for such a small group and the isolated or nearly isolated islands just don’t look like a human interaction pattern.

ICObench Nexus
ICObench Nexus

Adjusting from outbound degree to Eigenvector centrality, it was immediately clear what the focus of this group of accounts was. The next level of zoom in the names revealed two other cryptocurency news sites and a leader in the field as being the targets of the these accounts.

Thinking that 112 was a small number, we extracted their 7,029 unique followers’ IDs and got their names. Nearly 600 matched the first/last/digits format, but there were other similarities as well. We placed all 7,029 in our “slow cooker”, set to capture all of their tweets.

6,897 Bots
6,897 Bots

We were expecting to find signs of a botnet, but it appears the entire set of accounts are part of the same effort. The 6,897 we managed to collect were all created in the same twelve week period. The gap between creation times and the steady production of about eighty accounts per day seems to indicate a small hand run operation in a country with cheap labor.

Hashtags Used
Hashtags Used

The network is transparently focused on cryptocurrency over the long haul. Adjusting the timeframe to the last thirty days moved the keywords around a bit but the word cloud is largely the same. The clue to how these accounts got into the mix is there in the lower right quadrant – #followme and #followback indicate a willingness to engage whomever from the world at large, in addition to their siblings.

Why we have pursued this so far when it looks like just a cryptocurrency botnet is due to this clue.

The Big Clue
The Big Clue

Here are five bad actors with two other accounts created right in between them time wise. This is the most striking example, but there are others like it. And understand the HUMINT that triggered this – a group of people who do nothing but take down racist hate talkers all day feel besieged by a group that manages to immediately regenerate after losing an account.

Our Working Theory

What we think we are seeing here is a pool of low end crypto pump and dump accounts that were either created for or later sold to a ringleader in this radicalized right wing group.

Now that we have roughly 7,000 of them on record, we have to decide what to do. This is just such a blatant example of automation that Twitter might immediately take it down if they notice. The 6.5 million tweets we collected are utterly dull – the prize here is the user profile dataset. We’d need some mods to our software, but maybe we need to collect all the followers for this group of 7,000 and figure out what the actual boundaries of this botnet truly are.

This has been a tiresome encounter for those who make it their business to drive hate speech from Twitter, but this may be the light at the end of the tunnel. If one group is using pools of purchased accounts to put their foot soldiers back in play the minute they get suspended, others are doing this, too. No effort was made to conceal this one from even moderate analysis efforts. If we demonstrate this is a pattern and Twitter is forced to act, we may well find that a lot of the heat will go out of political discourse on that platform.

Exploring Conversation Spaces

Earlier today we captured seventy one Twitter accounts that we classified into three groups. These are Durant’s Dullards (21), Team Pillow Forts (23), and TheShed (27). The first are associated with RowdyPolitics[.]com, the second group are associated with CitJourno[.]org and Patribotics[.]blog, while the last group are unified by being stable, long term personas who are often forced to replace accounts due to suspension.

Three Co-Traveler Groups
Three Co-Traveler Groups

Visually, the Fortress of Pillowtude is on the left, the cluster of red accounts are the RowdyPolitics people, and The Shed’s frequent reincarnations leave them scattered around the perimeter on the right with fewer mentions.

This particular graphic has been filtered to remove 934 ‘CMP’ accounts – Celebrities, Media, and Politicians. The working theory behind this is that those accounts are ubiquitous, they cross group boundaries, and thus are not terribly useful for diagnostics. That thinly populated space in the middle are less notable CMP figures that haven’t been removed yet … but more importantly, some of those are ‘weak ties’, as covered in Mark Granovetter‘s 1973 classic social network analysis paper The Strength of Weak Ties.

Seeing The Whole Forest

While these groups lead in the creation, curation, and elevation of content, we want to be able to see them in the context of their operating environment. Graphs like this are useful for discerning structure, for identifying certain types of relationships, but those accounts generated over 262,000 mentions and over 12,000 others were mentioned twice or more. This is where we set aside Gephi and take up Elasticsearch.

Selecting the 2,739 accounts mentioned ten or more times is a good balance between getting what is important and not overrunning out available resources. Recent performance tuning means our collection system can now handle forty eight accounts in parallel. This run took 70 minutes to collect 6.48M tweets from 2,235 accounts that were actually available, an average of 32 accounts/minute. The 504 missing accounts are mostly those from The Shed that have been banned.

We want to see both overall features as well as group specifics, so JSON filters were created for each group. Applying them, we can see the top hashtags in use by each group over the last week. The fourth cloud is the overall set of hashtags employed by every account they mentioned. Here we begin to see what each group’s contribution to the overall conversation may have been.

Durant's Dullards Top 25 Hashtags
Durant’s Dullards Top 25 Hashtags
Team Pillow Forts Top 25 Tags
Team Pillow Forts Top 25 Tags
The Shed Top 25 Hashtags
The Shed Top 25 Hashtags
Top 25 Hashtags From All Accounts Mentioned
Top 25 Hashtags From All Accounts Mentioned

Temporal Matters

6.5 million lines of text is a lot to digest. When we employ Kibana we have powerful ways to search, filter, and abstract content, coupled with fine grained control of time. If we want to know the top hashtags over the prior seven days, limited to those that occurred with #MAGA or #Anonyous, and see how they compare volume wise, that’s easily done.

Top Hashtags Prior Week
Top Hashtags Prior Week

What if we want to see who first noticed the news of Elena Khusyaynova’s indictment on Friday? A few mouse clicks and we have the data from when the story broke. Long term observations are just as smooth – if we set the system up to spool content, it’ll just continuously capture the accounts that we decide are interesting.

Khusyaynova Indictment
Khusyaynova Indictment

Future Explorations

We are just getting started with the Kibana interface to Elasticsearch, using it as an advanced text search engine, and doing some simple infographics in the spirit of descriptive statistics.  There are complex, powerful tools out there, such as Timesketch and Wazuh, that are built on the Elasticsearch foundation. If we find just the right person, we may start branching in that direction.

An Old Investigation Worth Revisiting

There is something new brewing that we telegraphed on Twitter, but it’s going to take a bit to ripen. Between now and then let’s look over an unrelated event that is somewhat similar in spirit. Some of this originally appeared on Liberty STRATCOm as Russian Indictments, American Pinholes. The Internet Research Agency indictment revealed thirteen email addresses associated with Paypal accounts. It is believed that Ricky Pinedo had something to do with their procurement, but we were interested in what could be discerned from them.

Internet Research Agency Paypal Accounts
Internet Research Agency Paypal Accounts

We checked these against RiskIQ and only the first one came back with an associated domain.

DigitalFaceLab registered by wemakeweather@gmail.com
DigitalFaceLab registered by [email protected]

The domain registration was proxied, but unluckily for IRA, I used to live about two miles from this address, which was easily checked. It is a vacant lot between two other homes, and the woman’s name is common.

DigitalFaceLab Bogus Registration
DigitalFaceLab Bogus Registration

Don’t bother chasing DigitalFaceLab[.]com unless you have RiskIQ, it was moved to a Chinese IP after we started probing it, apparently a strategy to shift blame, and that’s not the real story in any event.

If you Googled the domain name when the indictment was relased, there was one hit, in YourDigitalFace[.]com’s front page source code.

YourDigitalFace[.]com unitedvetsofamerica@gmail.com
YourDigitalFace[.]com [email protected]
And the [email protected] account is one of the other Paypal accounts in the indictment. Now we might be on to something …

The domain YourDigitalFace[.]com was originally registered by Scott Orlosk in New Hampshire.

YourDigitalFace[.]com Original Registration
YourDigitalFace[.]com Original Registration
But it’s unclear what happened here. Did Orlosk lose control of the domain? It ends up tied to a Russian registrar, but not until May of 2017, which hardly makes sense given the overall time frame of events.

YourDigitalFace[.]com Expires
YourDigitalFace[.]com Expires
So what might be happening here?

  • RiskIQ is good, but not perfect, it misses things, it finds things later, it updates where and when it can get additional information. Maybe we are missing a key piece.
  • YDF expired, but Orlosk recovered it during a grace period, and may have been involved in developing and running DigitalFaceLab[.]com
  • Some exceedingly clever IRA person used DFL for the 2016 election and just happened to leave this subtle trail of clues to confound analysis.

But we know that IRA scrambled to clean up after the FBI made them – this is admitted in their indictment. Concealment at the theorized level is something we do in operations, we’ve run across similar things in other encounters with Russians, but this just … doesn’t feel like that. It doesn’t seem planned, it seems hasty, after the fact.

There are precisely three weeks to go till the 2018 midterm. This is a fine time to recall that Ricky Pinedo was just sentenced to six months in prison for what he took to be a crime below the threshold that would be pursued. His life will never be the same and everyone who had any transactions with those thirteen accounts has no doubt had some sleepless nights. Pinedo being sentenced means any cases based on his cooperation are going to quickly move to arrests, search warrants, and unsealed indictments becoming available.