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Bridgegate 2.0: Israeli tech students manipulate traffic patterns

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In Today’s Times, Nick Bilton has a piece on novel uses of “bots,” or computer code that impersonates humans and mimics their activities on-line, titled “Friends, and Influence for Sale Online.” Here are a few paragraphs near the end of the piece. (It’s in the Financial Review; that’s my link).

“This is all about power and control, the same thing it’s always been, but now it’s digital and you can do a lot more of it,” said Rick Wesson, chief executive of Support Intelligence, a computer security consulting firm based in San Francisco.

For now, these bots are simply deceptive, tricking people into thinking something is popular or pushing an agenda. But as bots become more sophisticated, Mr Wesson said, they could become nastier.

In March, two students at the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, created a swarm of bots that caused a phony traffic jam on Waze, the navigation software owned by Google.

The project, which was a class demonstration, was so sophisticated that the students were able to make bots that imitated Android mobile phones that accessed fake GPS signals and were operated by fake humans in fake cars. The Waze software, believing that the bots were on the road, started to redirect actual traffic down different streets, even though there was no traffic jam to avoid.

Chris Christie
Chris Christie

Where did the traffic diversion occur? Bilton doesn’t say.

FYI: Chris Christie might lose his job or aspirations, because of this kind of thing.

The Jerusalem Post also has a neutral reading of the story. The students have created a program that makes fake traffic jams. But it says this:

The students were able to simulate a traffic jam that lasted for hours on end causing motorists on Waze to deviate from their planned routes.

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My reading of this is that these students brought to light a potentially dangerous defect in these types of systems. It would have been preferable for them to not actually affect traffic on the ground, but i doubt they would have caught anyone’s attention without doing so. Their little stunt… Read more »

slightly OT, but the world’s legislatures really have to buckle down and start making the punishment for computer crimes serious. Hacking into computers or faking GPS or stealing people’s data or creating computer viruses should be punished by imprisonment measured in decades (with lifetime bans on using any computer thereafter),… Read more »

Isn’t technology endlessly fascinating, powerful, subject to such benevolent intelligence, and so admired (by those who admire such benevolently applied intelligence) that the readily observable ill-effects, if any came to editorial notice, of a particular application are ignored in favor of celebration of intellectual genius at work! Gosh what fun.… Read more »

Computer students fuck with an app! Call the FBI! To show the vulnerability of an app is comparable to closing traffic lanes because a mayor did not endorse you? Too much rhetoric and nowhere to go.

Phil, Great post — you are locking on to an issue of the highest strategic importance — cyberwarfare — which comprehends a wide range of activities, including Big Data mining. This little hack is just the tip of an immense iceberg, most of it invisible to the public. And the… Read more »