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Techno Viking, deploy: when internet memes meet British spy tools

Techno Viking, deploy: when internet memes meet British spy tools

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License to troll

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Intelligence operatives trawl the internet looking for information that might help incriminate or neutralize potential terrorists. Intelligence operatives like to give their programs names like MYSTIC and SQUEAKY DOLPHIN. None of that makes it any less strange when Glenn Greenwald reveals that British spy agency GCHQ is using programs like "TECHNO VIKING" to game online polls and mine data from LinkedIn. Today, Greenwald posted a leaked list of tools created by the agency's Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), granting some small insight into the simultaneously mundane, ominous, and ridiculous world of online surveillance.

The GCHQ, which works in tandem with the NSA, is said to tap fiber optic cables to gather intelligence and to reap the benefits of US surveillance systems like XKeyscore, through which "millions" of people are secretly tracked. But many of its tools are meant to gather and analyze publicly available information, launch phishing attacks, or shift the tone of online debate. The GCHQ particularly tends to do so in ways that make it sound like a covert 4chan board — it's previously been known to explain psychology with lolcats. Among the many names on the leaked internal wiki page:

  • TECHNO VIKING: "A subsystem of JAZZ FUSION [information access software]"
  • FOREST WARRIOR: "Desktop replacement for CERBERUS [information access software]"
  • AIRWOLF: "YouTube profile, comment and video collection"
  • PHOTON TORPEDO: "A technique to actively grab the IP address of an MSN messenger user"
  • ANGRY PIRATE: "A tool that will permanently disable a target's account on their computer"
  • ARSON SAM: "A tool to test the effects of certain types of PDU [Protocol Data Unit] SMS messages on phone/network"
  • CONCRETE DONKEY: "the capability to scatter an audio message to a large number of telephones, or repeatedly bomb a target number with the same message"
  • DEADPOOL: "URL shortening service"

Not all these tools are operational, and they cover a range of purposes, from pulling bulk social network data to launching denial of service attacks to "automated posting of Twitter updates" (BIRDSONG, later replaced by SYLVESTER). Some sound obviously threatening or invasive: SPRING BISHOP is supposed to "find private photographs of targets on Facebook," potentially as a way to discredit them. Some were already known. And some are hard to reconcile with the glamorous image of spycraft. MOUTH pulls files from very public digital preservation site Archive.org. UNDERPASS was created to "change outcome of online polls," a process more closely associated with voting 4chan's founder the world's most influential person and sending rappers to Alaska.

It's all a far cry from tapping the phones of world leaders, destroying the hard drives of a major newspaper, or anything else that's come to light since Edward Snowden started posting information about the UK government.

But as Greenwald points out, references to things like denial of service attacks show that intelligence agencies are using the same tools that can get private citizens arrested. The fact that they sound like teenagers making up spy names is both an odd tribute to internet culture and a reminder that teenage forum trolls are already frighteningly effective. The more our lives are online, the more mundane tools can serve up the sort of information that lets surveillance organizations track what we're doing. All they need is a fruit bowl, a bumblebee dance, and the X-Men.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Striking out

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The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


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At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


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At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


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Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.


A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
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Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


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Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


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If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


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Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.