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Fake online personas to battle terrorists would be created under $2.76M military contract

Software to create phony online personas, or sockpuppets, to infiltrate social networking sites where terrorists are recruiting manpower and soliciting funds is being created under a $2.76 million contract awarded by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).

"This is about attacking the enemy's ability to recruit and solicit funds," CENTCOM spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Lawhorn told Government Security News.

"We're going where the enemy is on the Internet because that's where they're targeting individuals for recruitment and soliciting funds," he maintained.

"This is about al-Queda and other groups and movements like al-Queda," he added.

According to a description of the work in the contract posted online by the U.S. Force, the software would allow each of its users to create 10 personas "replete with background, history, supporting details and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent."

"Indivdual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries," it said. "Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms."

The software may also include "traffic mixing"—the ability to blend a user's traffic with the traffic of multitudes of others outside the user's organization. "This traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability," the Air Force document said.

The one-year contract, with four option years that could bring its total worth to $2.76 million, was awarded to a company called Ntrepid, which will perform the work in San Diego. The company, which has a Web site consisting of only a "splash" page, describes itself on LinkedIn as a provider of software, hardware and managed services for cyber operations, analytics, linguistics and tagging and tracking for national security and law enforcement customers.

Earlier this week, the hacktivist group Anonymous announced it was probing the awarding of a similar sockpuppet contract allegedly awarded to Booz Allen Hamilton.