Thursday, October 29, 2015

Social Responsibility of Amber Alerts on Twitter

@AMBERAlert on Twitter
Many times in academic research, we tend to look at things very clinically. We try to remove bias from the equation as much as possible. This is more difficult when you work in an applied science. Criminology and Criminal Justice are two sides to the same field. It is very hard at times to remove personal bias when looking at things society deems inappropriate, illegal, or even evil.

I am starting to explore a study using Twitter, the very popular social media micro-blogging platform. One of the strengths of Twitter is that you can watch things unfold almost real-time. This exploratory study is based on the Amber Alert system. For those of you who do not know, I am from Arlington Texas, the birthplace of the Amber Alert named in honor of Amber Haggerman. I was in the Criminal Justice program at UT Arlington at the time of the abduction and what became a nation-wide search effort. I have met many officers and professionals that worked on the case in my studies and social engagements. To say that child endangerment is something I take seriously is an understatement. Child endangerment was the primary reason I was fixated on security, hacking, and forensics. It is very difficult for me to leave my bias on such a horrible issue at the proverbial door.

As I watched the tweets and retweets come in yesterday in looking for an active Amber Alert in Tennessee, I was shocked at how many people tweeted or responded with a negative attitude to a missing child. As an example of yesterday's tweets:
  • This Fxcking Amber Alert , Scared The Hell Out Of Me
  • Amber Alert noises on the iPhone is just too darn loud
  • Was blasting my music when that Amber alert sounded.... THANK YOU SILVER IMPALA WHO STOLE A CHILD
  • Amber alert just popped up on my phone n scared tf out of me. Loud af
  • Amber alert sounds be having me think the world is about to end
Granted the majority of the tweets regarding the amber alert were socially responsible. The passing of information and the retweets were amazing to see. It was simple heartwarming to watch the alert go viral for the state of Tennessee (it may yet go national). It shows that people really care. What I found most worrisome was the fact so many people did not know how to react to an Amber Alert. It is difficult sometimes to react to a lack of knowledge as anything other than indifference. It shows that social media has real power to reach out and affect lives. It also shows how much more effective that reach can be with a little edification to the users of social media.

That may be another avenue to explore for future impact. All I know is that I think something can be done with some thought behind it to improve response time for child endangerment cases. My thoughts and hopes are out there for little Brooklynne Enix, I hope she is recovered safe and unharmed. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Hands on Experience in Security

I wanted to take a moment and discuss the need for hands on experience. The idea that you can learn anything in security, hacking, forensics, or investigation without hands on experience is minimal at best. This goes beyond learning commands, how to load an operating system, or sniffing packets. It gets down to a fundamental mentality. You have to change the way people think to a mixture of critical thinking and problem solving.

As an example, I taught an undergraduate course at my old university. It was very popular and filled every semester. It was a blast getting people with little technical background into the idea of what cybercrime was and how to protect and investigate it. The end of the semester I asked them to write a probable cause affidavit, search warrant, and then run a crime scene. The picture below is very typical of what I received.

As you can tell, these students went all out on their crime scenes. The requirement was whatever was in their crime scene photos had to be in the warrant and evidence seizure report. I made them follow the law and best practices. You can also tell these are dated as to what was going on in the field atthe time (lulsec etc). Although this was an undergraduate course and considered exploratory from a student perspective, familiarity with the mindset was crucial. They would have had a much harder time understanding what each phase was in the investigation, what to investigate, and why had it not been for hands on experience. Tarleton State University describes this process as an Applied Learning Experience. It is absolutely critical to learning and understanding.  

I have a few students still under my wing from that process. They asked me to help them learn. So I give assignments to them outside of class. Things like, install Kali-Linux on a laptop. No guides, no step by step, but they can come to me anytime with questions on how to proceed. The self learning process needs to be assisted along the way. The old days of hackers just learning by doing are almost gone entirely. That is not to say people do not self learn, but the idea that it can all be self-learned is too far fetched now. There is simply too much to learn and too many sources of information not to need a guide. This guidance is where academia must step in and provide service. This can and should be sponsored through direct student interaction, publication, and community outreach.