Sock Puppet Security: Can It Protect Us?
By Tom Seest
At BestCybersecurityNews, we help entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, young learners, and seniors learn more about cybersecurity.
Sock puppets provide children with an invaluable means of communicating their emotions and feeling supported and connected.
Investigators, detectives, and hackers often create fake social media accounts for OSINT research without betraying their true identities by creating false aliases to obtain information about targets without giving away their true identities.
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Sock puppets are small hand puppets that require only fingers to operate. They are popular among children as tools to create stories and characters or for entertainment purposes, such as puppet shows or reading out loud from storybooks. Made out of various materials like paper, fabric, or cardboard and decorated with different facial features to make them look more realistic, some may even come equipped with hats and accessories to complete their look.
A sock puppet, commonly referred to as a sockpuppet, is a hand puppet created from an ordinary cotton sock. A puppeteer wears the sock over their hands and lower arm like gloves with the region between heel and toe acting as the puppet’s mouth; alternatively, it can be cut into an oval and tucked under their thumb to form its jaw, allowing them to use their puppet while still having their hands free for other tasks.
Sock puppets have a rich and longstanding history in electronic media and the internet, dating back to their introduction on Usenet in the 1980s and eventually appearing across a range of social networking platforms today. Sock puppets also enjoy great popularity with gamers for using harassment or trickery tools in online gaming to coax other players into doing what they want them to.
Many individuals create sock puppet accounts to engage in cyberbullying, trolling, or other forms of mischief online. These false identities can easily be detected by moderators with expert knowledge in internet security due to obvious spelling or grammar errors that characterize most sock puppet accounts.
Sock puppets have long been employed by various groups and individuals to manipulate public opinion online, including political campaigns, pranking, and creating the appearance of grassroots support – all activities that may be illegal and have serious repercussions if their creator is caught.
OSINT relies heavily on covert research methods that use “sock puppets,” or fake online identities, to covertly gather open-source information on targets. This approach can be especially helpful if an investigation requires access to content that requires login credentials; additionally, it prevents alerting targets that they are being probed by certain entities. Creating fake personas for OSINT purposes is considered legal and ethical as long as investigators abide by their organization’s policies regarding the creation and usage of such accounts.
Passive open-source intelligence collection using low-profile sock puppet accounts can take an investigation a considerable distance. But at some point during an investigation, additional HUMINT techniques may be required in order to elicit information vital for its facilitation and resolution – this is when active sock puppet accounts become invaluable resources.
Establishing an active sock puppet account to investigate may pose greater risks to an investigator, as its presence could easily become detectable to their target. Therefore, it is vital that they adhere to rigorous operational security (OPSEC) measures both during its creation and duration.
As such, it is vital that any sock puppet use proxies to shield their IP addresses and avoid devices compromised with malware while also using VPN and purchasing a burner phone/SIM card so the account cannot be linked back to an investigator if exposed.
As well as taking technical measures, an investigator should make an extra effort to actively engage their sock puppet in conversations with their target. This can help build rapport and reduce guards – with more visibility and familiarity comes reduced perception of threat which leads to quicker engagement between sock puppet and target.
Sock puppets are an essential tool for OSINT investigators, helping them gather open-source information about their target. However, it should be noted that sock puppets can also be employed for active social engineering research and infiltration activities – though their accounts must not be linked back to the investigator for operational security (OPSEC) reasons. This type of research often necessitates multiple accounts with both passive and active open-source collection activities taking place simultaneously.
One of the essential aspects of an effective sock puppet is their persona. To be effective, their account should appear legitimate while exuding an interesting personality, including work history, education, and interests. Aiming not at impersonating its target but at building relationships that allow investigators to gain information efficiently is key.
Finding the appropriate persona for a honeypot sock puppet can be challenging. An investigator should create their profile in private and limit how much personal information they share to avoid giving any hint to their target that the account may not be genuine. Furthermore, keeping personal and work accounts separate will protect them from retaliation while not drawing too much attention to their investigation.
Concern Trolls are another type of sock puppet often employed to sow doubt, fear, and uncertainty among a group of individuals by appearing as an impartial third party that shares their point of view – this tactic is used in both online political activism and governments to do this effectively.
Malicious actors often attempt to use the power of crowds against people or organizations with the intent of harming their reputation and finances. Malicious actors may take this course by exploiting vulnerabilities or directly attacking their targets; alternatively, they could infiltrate groups with the intention of forcing their members into doing what they want; in these instances, the malicious actor could either join as part of the crowd itself or act as its puppeteer, exerting influence and controlling members through collective behavior.
Sock puppets have long been used in cybersecurity as both an instrument of manipulation and collection of open-source intelligence (OSINT). Malicious actors may use them to manipulate public opinion on an issue or product while OSINT investigators employ them as a method of collecting intelligence without alerting their target that they are under investigation.
Establishing a sock puppet is an integral component of OSINT investigations. A fake persona allows investigators to gather data from social media platforms, search engines, and other websites without being tied back to their true identities, which helps protect them from retaliation by subjects they are investigating while simultaneously keeping their identity concealed from prying eyes. Doing this effectively requires knowledge of various privacy settings and policies online as well as methods for anonymizing accounts, such as using VPN or Tor VPN when signing into these accounts.
Passive open-source intelligence (OSINT) collection through sock puppet accounts is vital to conducting an effective investigation. But what happens if the information that you require cannot be found anywhere publicly accessible?
One way of gathering this kind of data is via closed sources, like previous reports on an individual or group. But even with access to these sources, it may still be impossible to gather all of the needed data via passive means alone.
Sock puppets are pseudonymous Internet identities created to give the appearance of multiple people agreeing with an idea or point when, in reality, there is only one. Sock puppets may also be used to post follow-up comments that praise or echo a poster’s convictions in order to manipulate public opinion, circumvent bans from websites, or bypass spam detection tools and filters.
Sock puppets may be associated with political activism, but they can also be utilized for disinformation campaigns and nation-state cyberwarfare. Over time, these technologies will likely become even more advanced and widespread – creating both positive and negative consequences depending on how they’re deployed.
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