Facespook: Russian spies order $1mln software to influence social networks
Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) has ordered three systems worth about US$1 million that will automatically spread information on the Internet.
The systems were ordered in a three separate tenders and the official client’s name is Military Unit 54939, but Kommersant Daily newspaper, which broke the news, writes that according to its sources this military unit belongs to the Foreign Intelligence Service’s structure.The first system is called Dispute and is responsible for overall monitoring of the blogosphere and social networks in order to single out the centers where the information is created and the ways by which it is spread among the virtual society. It also looks at factors that affect the popularity of various reports among internet users. The second system, Monitor-3, will develop the methods of organization and management of a “virtual community of attracted experts” – setting of tasks, control over work and regular reports on chosen issues.The third, and probably most important, of the systems is Storm-12 – its task is to automatically spread the necessary information through the blogosphere, as well as “information support of operations with pre-prepared scenarios of influence on mass audience in social networks.”The first two systems are to be ready by the end of 2012 and the third by 2013.According to Kommersant, all three tenders were won by the company Iteranet, headed by a former deputy head of the Russian Cryptography Institute, Igor Matskevich, who previously worked on top secret state orders. The newspaper claims that the tenders were held in a top secret mode and does not specify how the information was obtained or the reasons for deciding to disclose it.Experts were cautious in their assessments of the new initiative. Russia’s leading startup manager of internet projects Anton Nossik said that imbedded spam filters will resist the automated opinion-making systems and suggested that part of the budget must be spent on means to overcome this.Another expert who preferred not to be named told Kommersant that the system can only be effective if its activities go beyond the legal sphere – like hacking the administrators’ rights on social networks, mass messaging or even infecting the users’ computers with automatic “bot” programs.The head of the Russian association Center for Safe Internet, Urvan Parfentyev, said that the news was a natural development of conventional propaganda means, like the Voice of America and RFE RL radio stations, only on the internet.