It's no secret that al Qaeda and its fellow travelers use the anonymity of the Internet to recruit, train, and finance its operations, but now efforts are afoot to identify the online jihad's most effective propagandists, reports the Associated Press.
[P]rogrammers and writers leave digital clues: the greetings and other words they choose, their punctuation and syntax, and the way they code multimedia attachments and Web links.
Researchers at the University of Arizona are developing a tool that uses these clues to automate the analysis of online jihadism. The Dark Web project aims to scour Web sites, forums and chat rooms to find the Internet's most prolific and influential jihadists and learn how they reel in adherents.
One of the specific focuses of the Dark Web project is to identify who produces improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and what they say online. The software tool researchers use, Writeprint, was originally devised for analyzing the works of William Shakespeare.
It looks at writing style, word usage and frequency and greetings, and at technical elements ranging from Web addresses to the coding on multimedia attachments. It also looks at linguistic features such as special characters, punctuation, word roots, font size and color, he said.
Currently, intelligence analysts cannot effectively analyze writing style in cyberspace, particularly multilingual writings, he said.
"But using our tool ... we can get about 95 percent accuracy, because I'm utilizing a lot of things your naked eye cannot see," [Dark Web's Lab director Hsinchun] Chen said.
Chen says an automated tool is necessary now as jihadist Web pages are too numerous for humans to analyze manually. Dark Web's data logs have more than 500 million jihadist Web pages collected, which are cross-analyzed with new pages to find links. But some counterterrorism experts are skeptical Dark Web will be effective in the real world, believing human eyes and intelligence prove more effective than computerized scanning.