The Church of The Unconnected – LEVEL THREE: MAKE MY DAY, DETECTIVE SCARCELLA

11 October 2013

Screen Mandalas by Valentina Roselli

 

(see previous installments of The Church of The UnconnectedLEVEL ZEROLEVEL ONE, LEVEL TWO)

During their search for the Unconnected (all those who still live without experiencing the Internet), Miltos Manetas and Francesco Urbano Ragazzi encountered the cyber-detective Marco Scarcella. Here below you will find an accurate transcript of the conversation between Mr. Scarcella and Francesco Urbano Ragazzi. Although the original topic should have been the method to find the Unconnected, the dialogue slowly moves beyond this, approaching subjects such as social engineering, trade of data, privacy, and what Michel Foucault would have called “biopolitics”.

 

MAKE MY DAY, DETECTIVE SCARCELLA. 

- Hi Marco, can you hear us well?

- Yes, I do hear you.

- You must have guessed our first question already.

- Let’s see…

- Straight to the point: how would you find the the maximum number of Unconnected in the least possible time? We will assume to have unlimited economical resources…

- Wait. There is something I would like to say first. I have previously taken some notes, in order to be clearer and not to lose too much time thinking, now that we talk.. Let’s first define who the Unconnected are, precisely. I have divided them in three or four categories. The first are the Disconnected, those people who used to have a life online and then, for the most different reasons, gave up on the Internet. A client of mine, for instance, has closed all of his accounts after his fiancée found out that he was cheating on her thanks to a crossed-control of some Facebook’ posts. Alternatively, there is that case you were telling me about…

- Yes, Donald Knuth: an informatic engineering professor from Stanford University who has not even been using his email since 1990. He has his secretary to print down anything he receives on his account, which is still active. He replies to his correspondence every three months via regular mail, following a method he invented by himself.

- Exactly. Although it can be said that people like him have left a trace on the Internet, which is almost unerasable. It hardly happens that those who decide to go offline also put their effort in closing all their accounts and deleting all of the data saved. There exist sites like Wayback Machine [http://archive.org/web/web.php], keeping track of all the websites ever existed in the Net. Let’s also add to all of the above that, nowadayas, the keyword is “sharing”: when a content is shared we can say there is no way to eliminate it. Once you get on the Internet, you cannot go back 100%. Your rate of disconnection depends on how and how much you have been connected before.

- Ok, the Disconnected are doomed. What other categories did you think of?

- The second category is that of the False Connected. I fit in there all the fake profiles, like those created -for example- to escape censorship.

- Yet the persons behind these profiles have experienced what it means to be in the Internet: in this case, they are none of our business.

- Then let’s pass to the real Unconnected, those people who never ever connected to the Internet, not even once. If I had to find as many as possible, I would focus on the categories of people who, almost surely, do not have a telephone contract. For example, homeless people cannot afford it, while illegal immigrants do not have the documents any telephone company requires, before activating a new line.

- Although there always exist a possibility they found some way to connect.

- I have to say yes. This kind of people could get connected indirectly, taking advantage of the line of other users or simply using the free stalls of many libraries. It would be necessary to evaluate it on a case-to-case basis. Though another possibility is that of proceeding by geographical areas. Even online, it is possible to find some decently detailed dossier regarding a factor called “Internet Penetration”. It is the percentage of world population having access to a conncection. This was the data as for last year: Africa 15.6%, Asia 27.5%, Middle-East 40.2%, Latin America and the Caribbeans 42.9%, Europe 63.2%, Australia and Oceania 67.6%, North America 78.6%. Overall, the world rate of Internet penetration is only 34.3%.

- You mean that us, the connected, are a minority?

- Yes, but we have grown of 566% since 2000. The real boom was in the Middle-East with a growth rate of 2639.9% and in Latin America with a +1310.8%. Africa has expanded its users of 3606.7%, but eventually remains last of the list.

- Always keeping in mind our scope of making a differentiation, what more could be done?

- The opposite of what I have just suggested. We could look for all those people who are surely connected and take them off the list. It comes to my mind that many schools ask parents to fill in some online forms, in order to enroll their pupils: there are some high schools where the report card is sent only via email. This means that the parents of those students, just for having gave them birth, cannot refuse to be connected. They have no choice and maybe soon no one else will have one.

- A couple of days ago Zuckerberg declared that the connection is a human right. Is it a right of ours to turn down a right of ours? Let’s not wander too far away though…

- Yes, even because the next generation to be born will be already merged in the Internet: they won’t even question whether to refuse the connection or not. To them, it will resemble a second nature or a second society. If you think about it, the same term Unconnected depends from the fact that there actually is someone Connected, as much as it depends from the fact Internet exists.

The Unconnected are only its border. Before the Internet, the Unconnected did not exist for the simple reason that the whole human generation was unconnected: the distinction had no sense. Just like the fact the Unconnected won’t exist after, when all of us will be connected. This is the one and only real era of the Unconnected.

- You have perfectly understood what Miltos means! Our research is so important!

- In my opinion, we could follow two paths. We are always assuming to have endless funds, right?

- Right.

- The first path is quite expensive and is based on data buying and selling. As you know, each time we sign a contract with banks, telephone companies and so on, all the information that we give away on ourselves is categorized: by age or gender, for instance… The lists obtained can be sold to third parties. Usually, we are asked whether we allow for the commercial use of our data, but our decision is not always respected. Companies are able in using many graphics tricks that induce us to put our cross on that very determined box. It must have happened to everyone at least once, don’t you agree? Hypothetically, we could buy a wide number of contacts from a telephone company and investigate on those users who only have a contract for a fixed line.

- Can you give us an idea about the costs?

- Well, it depends… and it can vary a lot. Just to give you a benchmark: a big city in the North of Italy bought from a single telephone company can be valued around one million euros, or maybe a little more. If, instead, we want to go through the General Register Office or the Chamber of Commerce, we will spend less. Prices fluctuate around a few cents per name, but it also depends from the type of data packet you want buy: there obviously are some targets with a higher commercial value than others. Another way to save money would be that of investigating in the supermarket chains: no one dislikes a fidelity card. [Ed. We got to know from another source that the price for this kind of information varies between the 3 and the 11 cents per each name].

- This is so true.

- As you may imagine, this first path has an illegal side, made of black market, espionage and so on. Indeed, part of my job consists in protecting the websites of the firms that hire me. But let’s talk about the second path, which – with a bit of luck – could be realized without spending a single cent. Almost.

- We follow you.

- On one side, you need to do public relations: being able to choose well who you are aiming at, in order to obtain the maximum amount of information. On the other, you need to know how to ask for it. You have to perform what is called social engineering, that is to say, the art of manipulating people with the scope of having them confessing their sensible data to a stranger. Many of the tactics habitually adopted are based on trust or on the fact that people fear the authority, or even on the simple idea of helping someone in proceeding with their work: giving them the idea of having made a good deed.

- This is basically pishing!

- Well, pishing is only that part of social engineering which exclusively happens via Internet. I don’t know: sending fake emails, creating websites similar -down to every detail- to other existing sites where we gain access with the insertion of an email and a password, like the one of the Italian Post Office, and so on… My reference was to the techniques which take advantage of direct manipulation, of the dialogue with one’s “victim”, starting from the assumption that the real weakness of any informatic system lies in its human users. If you are interested in the topic, I recommend the reading of The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick, maybe the first manual of social engineering.

- Kevin Mitnick?

- Yes, he is a superfamous American programmer and hacker, who started doing social engineering at the age of 12. When the FBI agents tried to catch him for the first time, he cracked their security code in order to follow the investigations on him. The second time he was not as lucky… He got out of prison in 2000 after 4-5 years in jail, but even then he was forbidden to use anything else but a fixed line. Now he got back on track and has founded a consultancy business for informatic security. And social engineering has become subject of study in many faculties of criminology around the world.

- Great reading advice. But let’s step backwards: let’s go back to public relations.

- It will sound to you like a cliche, but it always work in my job: the first person to go talking to is the priest’s housekeeper, the protected of the parison. She will look forward to demonstrating how many things she knows. Oh, and going back for a second to the market of personal data, something I have not told you is that also many parishes sell their contacts, as if they were a telephone company…

- Simonia 2.0, splendid! We wonder whether someone might be interested in our Church of the Internet as well…

- After talking with the housekeeper of the priest we can go to the hairdressers, the greengrocers, the butchers. Perhaps asking them if they have noticed any client using old models of mobile phones, so that we avoid to ask it directly. Newstands, instead, must be avoided.

- Why not the newstands?

- In general, all the business owners selling items at a fixed price should be avoided, as their clients are not intrigued into creating a relationship. A client talks about his private life to the vendor only when this confidence leads to concrete discounts on the merchandise. Clear?

- So, once the blabbermouth is detected, are there any techniques of social engineering that have resulted to be more effective than others?

- Most often I do not even need to use a real technique. You just need to be able to talk and to be nice. This happens because most of the people cannot elaborate an idea of themselves alone: they need to talk with the others to understand if they are good, bad, nice, useful, if they are capable of behaving in a society. What is important is that, while talking to us, the person we have chosen has the feeling of being somehow a better human.

- Are there locations which are better than others for our research?

- In general, all those places implying a waiting line. It could be the studio of a doctor or of a dentist, as well as the bowling ground or a lake where you do game fishing. Thinking of the Unconnected more specifically, we should make a list of all those places offering services that can be found online, too. The first spots coming to my mind are gambling centres: once able to play from the computer, with many less limitations and protected from negative social judges, who would ever want to go out? The SNAI centres must be full of Unconnected.

- If we wanted to avoid all these small talks with strangers, are there other possibilities coming to your mind?

- Let me think.. Well, we could make use of another factor called Web Reputation or Web Popularity. This is extremely used from the Human Resources departments in order to decide who to hire and who to hire not in the company. You need to figure out that there have been invented some softwares, the so-called spiders or crawlers, that evaluate our Internet reputation: they assign us a mark on a numerical scale, according to the fact that in the Net our name is associated with positive or negative adjectives, or according to the kind of site on which our name appears. Always assuming to have lots of money, we could have our spider to analyze the entire human genre and then investigate on those people with a Web Reputation close to zero, those people for whom there is almost no trace online. It is likely that they are Unconnected, don’t you think?

- Ok. So it would be up to the software to find the Unconnected. But what if it was them who come out of the closet? I mean, what if we created a sort of chain letter? Before opening the Internet Pavilion we launched a Facebook campaign in order to see if someone knew any Unconnected and collected about 200 names in two months. How would you develop the idea?

- This method seems to work for me. You would only need an incentive to signal names and surnames, something helpful in overcoming the idea of violating the Unconnected’ privacy.

- Like putting 100,000 euros as a reward?

- The truth is, people have to be attracted in the easiest way possible. In my opinion, if you put a plexiglass over pan as a prize – just to name something – you will have more chances to succeed. 

- Plexiglass over pans?

- Yes: plexiglass over pans, Tupperwares, anything you want. It varies a bit with the target you are aiming at. People usually do not believe in big life changes, and changing itself, even when positive, becomes a source of stress: the majority of human beings is happy about a little thing, like an useful object they would not be likely to buy in the immediate. You need to create the impression that anyone can win without particular efforts or luck. Moreover, there is another problem. In order to give away such a high amount as a prize, you need to be extremely institutionalized: the Lottery, the Scratch and Win… otherwise they would immediately think about a fraud.

- A question slightly shifting away from our focus: do you know any Unconnected?

- Mmh… I believe that all the Unconnected I know are over their sixties. Instead, I could give you the name of some paranoic. With a job like mine, you meet a lot of them.

- Real deliriums?

- Yes, people believing to be spied on and stuff like that. It is also true that all the emails we write in Google are saved, and that the pictures we post on Facebook become property of the social network. It is true that there is a mean of control, but such control does not happen in the way most of the people imagine: it does not happen on a person-to-person basis. Google or Facebook are not interested in us as individuals, but as members of a specimen, of a society: as a representative statistical unit. Who on Earth would be interested in the pictures of our holidays?

Translation: Matilde Cerruti Quara.

 

 

Screen Mandalas by Valentina Roselli

 

Screen Mandalas by Valentina Roselli

Screen Mandalas by Valentina Roselli

 

Screen Mandalas by Valentina Roselli

 

 

Screen Mandalas by Valentina Roselli