Impostor And Investigator Exploit The Net - InformationWeek
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2/21/2010
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Dave Methvin
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Impostor And Investigator Exploit The Net

The famous 1993 cartoon from the New Yorker magazine said that "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The Internet certainly makes it easier to misrepresent yourself, if not your species, but it also makes unmasking an impostor much easier. A great example of that emerged last week.

The famous 1993 cartoon from the New Yorker magazine said that "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The Internet certainly makes it easier to misrepresent yourself, if not your species, but it also makes unmasking an impostor much easier. A great example of that emerged last week.Randall C. Kennedy has written about Microsoft products for more than a decade, most recently as a blogger at InfoWorld. He's generally been an outspoken critic of Microsoft products. Sometimes his criticism has been well-founded and supported by solid data; other times it's out in left field. So far, he doesn't sound much different than other bloggers -- including me.

From there, Kennedy's story gets much more interesting. It turns out that Kennedy had an alter ego named Craig Barth, who is ostensibly the CTO of a Florida-based company named Devil Mountain Software. The company's only visible service is the exo.performance.network but the company claims that isn't their main work: "Our primary focus is on the financial services sector ... [t]he exo.performance.network is the pet project of our engineering team and a way to give something back to the larger IT community. "

Barth, er, Kennedy, was a favorite source of Computerworld reporter Gregg Keizer, who says that he was unaware of the deception. In an email to Keizer, Kennedy states he created the Barth persona "in an effort to separate my sometimes controversial editorial contributions to InfoWorld from the hard research content I was developing."

It's not hard to set up a convincing professional-looking web site and conduct business entirely via electronic communication and social business networks like LinkedIn. And, it's incredibly easy to lie about your business or intentions. Yet those same tools can be used to uncover those lies. Larry Dignan's investigation, complete with public records searches and links to map sites, are things that an investigator couldn't even imagine if this kind of fraud was conducted two decades ago. As Dignan mentions, it seemed odd that the CTO of a technology company quoted by industry publications wouldn't have any presence on the Internet.

As we do more and more business online, it becomes easier to pass off these kind of deception using the Internet. Reporters need to take advantage of those same tools to verify their sources and ensure that they aren't complicit in the deception.

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