July 23, 2011 By Shauqeen Mizaj

Hacktivism is Target of US Defence Research

2011-Is-The-Year-Of-HacktivismThe American Ministry of Defense is funding research into the rapidly advancing and engrossing world of cyber space detailing several projects including the one on the culture of computer hackers, crowd behavior at music festivals and football matches, and the impact of Twitter, Facebook and online conspiracy theories in times of crisis.PhD students of various universities will be roped in for the research. The £10m program backed by the  Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) consists of conventional military applications like researching technology to support underwater drones and the development of clothing with fully embedded electronics.

To the tune of £97,487 goes into “the rise of the digital insurgency” targeting the “hacktivist” group Anonymous at King’s College London. The students will interact with the members of the group, addressing the issues; understanding their goals and the internal politics. Other projects include “Collective Action in the Digital Age: Social identities and the influence of online and offline behavior” with £82,630 for its aid at the University of Exeter and “Analyzing and influencing crowd behaviors through arrays of ad-hoc mobile sensors“, a £137,433 program at Queen Mary, University of London. The researchers will collect data from mass crowd events like music festivals and sporting events. Another £139,649 is also being sponsored to Queen Mary university called “Cross-cultural attitudes and the shaping of online behavior in crisis situations” aiming at the trends and patterns relating to the flow of information on social media during terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Other projects aided by the military defense include “Exploring identity within modern technology – the influence of social and ethical concerns on models of distributed identity” at the University of Southampton (£107,012), “Achieving legitimacy in a new media ecology” at the University of Glasgow(£85,588), “Data mining to understand international dimensions to online identity – a classification of 2+billion names and their linkage to virtual identities and social network traffic” at the University College London( £106,160) and “Social movement 2.0: collective identity in the era of online participatory media” at Kings College London( £97,486).

According to an MOD spokesperson “Cyber-security is an issue of growing importance. DSTL seeks to understand these threats and the vulnerabilities they exploit in order to provide effective advice and support to the MOD and wider government on defending against these threats.”

However there is skepticism among observers about the feasibility of such measures. Some doubt the rather deleterious effects these measures might have on privacy and security. Famous columnist Robert Samuelson says:   Whether these searches are effective in fighting terrorism is disputed. The NSA says they’re valuable. A panel of experts appointed by Obama concluded that the monitoring “was not essential to preventing attacks.” But more important for civil liberties and privacy, the panel found that present practices don’t approach past abuses.”

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