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Book Excerpt: Part 3

A Smart Slut Add to ...

While the overwhelming majority of artificial intelligence research is conducted on behalf of the military, some of it is coming from a surprising source: sex-minded criminals. Indeed, if military researchers don't come up with a human-seeming robot intelligence soon, hackers may very well beat them to it.

Internet scams started with spam-the unwanted e-mail, not the meat in a can, that is. As with every other innovation on the internet, the sex industry took quickly to it. Almost from the moment people started sending each other electronic messages, sex purveyors were acquiring e-mail addresses to pitch their products. This resulted in the development of "spiders" that could trawl the web and search for e-mail addresses and viruses that could infect inboxes and send out messages to all listed contacts. In the early days of the web, this sort of spam generally directed people to porn sites, where they would hopefully sign up for some sort of paid service. As anti-spam filters became smarter and stronger, the solicitations took ever-more complex forms. Simple spam morphed into annoying pop-up ads and then into phishing attacks, where a computer is infected by malicious code when the user clicks on a link.



Read part-1 of the 5-part excerpt from Sex, Bombs and Burgers



In 2005, while I was living in New Zealand, I was nearly taken in by what was then the latest evolution of these scams. I had signed up to Friendster, a social-networking site that served as a precursor to the likes of MySpace and Facebook, and created a profile with all the standard information-my place of birth, age, interests and the like. While planning a visit home to Canada, I received a message from "Jen." She said she had read my profile and was interested in becoming a journalist and asked if I wanted to catch a Blue Jays baseball game when I was back in Toronto. Being a single guy at the time, I couldn't believe my luck-not only had someone actually read my profile, she also shared the same interests. I checked out Jen's profile and everything looked to be in order, so I replied and asked her to send more details about herself. She answered with a link to her website, saying there was information there. I followed the link and, sure enough, it was a site that required a paid membership to enter-clearly a well-disguised porn site. The jig was up.

After some Googling, I learned that many other men had been fooled by the same ruse. "Jen" had a different name every time, but "she" used the same script with individualized alterations gleaned from Friendster profiles. It turns out Jen was a sophisticated "bot" that was programmed to automatically scrub profiles for personal details, then try to pass itself off as a human in messages to users. Nobody ever did track down where that particular bot originated. I managed to trace the porn website as registered to a law firm in Australia, but my calls there were never returned (Jen must have met someone else).

Read part-2 of the 5-part excerpt from Sex, Bombs and Burgers



The Friendster scam was small potatoes compared to the Slutbot, also known as "CyberLover," that made the rounds on dating websites in 2007. The "flirting robot" was a piece of software developed by Russian hackers that could establish relationships online with ten different people in just thirty minutes. The program, which could be configured into several versions ranging from "romantic lover" to "sexual predator," could carry on full conversations and convince people to reveal personal information by asking questions like, "Where can I send you a Valentine's Day card?" or "What's your date of birth? I'm planning a surprise for your birthday."



Security specialists said the artificial intelligence built into the software was good enough that victims had a tough time distinguishing the bot from a real suitor. "As a tool that can be used by hackers to conduct identity fraud, CyberLover demonstrates an unprecedented level of social engineering," one security analyst said. "Internet users today are generally aware of the dangers of opening suspicious attachments and visiting URLs, but CyberLover employs a new technique that is unheard of. That's what makes it particularly dangerous. It has been designed as a robot that lures victims automatically without human intervention." (My emphasis added.)

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