Feeds

Data-mining technique outs authors of anonymous email

Unmasking trolls, one 'write-print' at a time

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Engineers and computer scientists say they have devised a novel method for identifying authors of anonymous emails that's reliable enough to be used in courts of law.

In a series of papers published over the past few years, the researchers from Concordia University in Montreal have described what they say is the first ever data-mining algorithm for identifying the most plausible author of an anonymous email. It works by establishing a “write-print” of each suspected author by quantifying unique patterns in each individual's email writings. It can be used to unmask authors of emails used in spam, phishing cyberbullying and other types of offenses.

“Our insight is that the write-print of an individual is the combinations of features that occur frequently in his/her written emails,” the researchers wrote in a paper (PDF) first published in the publication Digital Investigation. “The commonly used features are lexical, syntactical, structural and content-specific attributes. By matching the write-print with the malicious email, the true author can be identified.”

Characteristics include word usage, word sequence, common spelling and grammatical mistakes, vocabulary richness, hyphenation and punctuation.

The new approach differs from previous methods by filtering out characteristics found in two or more of the suspects' writing styles. So-called decision tree methods often attempt to use the same set of features to deduce the write-print of different suspects. By excluding the styles that multiple suspects share, the technique attempts to generate a unique signature for each potential author under investigation.

At the heart of the method is an algorithm known as AuthorMiner. It mathematically extracts frequent patterns found in suspects emails and then filters out those that are common to other suspects. It then compares the anonymous email with each of the generated write-prints to identify the closest match.

To test the method, they used it on a set of more than 200,000 emails written by 158 employees of Enron before the energy company was exposed for financial fraud. When finely tuned, the technique identified the author about 80 percent of the time.

Additional papers from the researchers – who include Farkhund Iqbal, Rachid Hadjidj, Benjamin Fung, and Mourad Debbabi – are available here. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
Snowden-inspired crypto-email service Lavaboom launches
German service pays tribute to Lavabit
Mounties always get their man: Heartbleed 'hacker', 19, CUFFED
Canadian teen accused of raiding tax computers using OpenSSL bug
Heartbleed exploit, inoculation, both released
File under 'this is going to hurt you more than it hurts me'
Arts and crafts store Michaels says 3 million credit cards exposed in breach
Meanwhile, Target investigators prepare for long process in nabbing hackers
Canadian taxman says hundreds pierced by Heartbleed SSL skewer
900 social insurance numbers nicked, says revenue watchman
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.