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Branson's text-a-guru unlikely to fly

And the 'science' of SMS analysis

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Put yourself in the position of the person on the ground. Your mobile comes alive and it's a message. It's from someone calling themselves Virgin Air Services, and it claims to be from a friend. Ho, yus...

Well, the solution, apparently, is stylistic analysis.

Stylistic analysis is something that Biblical scholars use to infuriate the religious, by demonstrating that some holy person couldn't possibly have written both the Acts and Luke (for example) because they are clearly written by a different author - or by six different authors. It's been used in Shakespearean analysis, similarly, and it's also come into forensic use. And there was the famous occasion when a schoolgirl disappeared, and kept sending texts telling her family she was OK, when in fact she was already dead.

On that occasion, the texts from her phone were analysed, and shown - using stylistic analysis - not to be from her. More to the point, they were shown to have been from her uncle, thus proving that he had her phone - a fact he found hard to explain, and which contributed to his conviction for her murder.

I'll admit to some scepticism, here, which may be unjustified. A group of students at the University of Leicester is analysing a huge volume of texts to see if they can identify the texters from style, and in six months' time, they hope to report on how good their forensics are.

Now, my own experience isn't typical. As someone who is constantly getting a new phone (to review) my experience is that texting style is more in the hands of the phone user interface, than in my own literary habits.

On my Sony Ericsson Walkman (current phone) there are things which are just too damn hard to do. The other day I had to reply to a request for a URL. It was case sensitive, and switching from lower case to capitals introduced a number of variables into the message which frankly, left me shouting "life's too short!" and throwing the phone across the room (fortunately, it hit the sofa).

This week, trying to test a 3 online mobile service, I found that I had to enter my bank card details on the keypad. It utterly defeated me, and I still haven't managed to see See-Me-TV (which, I'm assured, is well worth the effort) because I didn't manage, even once, to get all the digits in correctly on the LG 800 phone (lovely phone, but really not designed to text numbers).

But on my previous phone, an Orange SPV, the T9 predictive text was my master, and I wrote what it wanted me to say. I can't believe that anybody, analysing the style of what I wrote on the SPV, would recognise the person who used the LG, or the Walkman phone.

So, if you get a strange text from someone claiming to be me, chances are - unlikely though it seems - that it really is me. Also, chances are, it's an attempt to download some Trojan into your phone.

Somehow, I suspect that this idea of that nice Mr (sir) Branson, is not going to fly... ®

3 Big data security analytics techniques

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