Spy vs Spy Week, User Input

User Input: Sticky Traps

Anna Chapman, an actual Russian (not Soviet) honeypot.

Earlier this morning, Techie spoke of the modern “honeypot” systems that are designed to lure in hackers — well, not real hackers, let’s be honest, mostly script-kiddies like Tiger-M@te, the charming fellow who tried to fake hacking our server some time ago. That’s all very interesting, but the original honeypots were far more… intriguing. This was social engineering. This was hacking humans.

In the battle going back-and-forth between the Soviets and the Western Powers, the Soviets found that they were at a bit of a disadvantage when it came to luring in American or British agents. The Americans, when trying to win over Soviet agents, would simply offer them great gobs of money. The Soviets just didn’t have the deep pockets to counter that. So they had to get a little more creative.

To the Soviets, the Americans were nothing more than sex-obsessed materialists. Since they didn’t have the money to offer, they decided to offer the sex. The KGB began developing a special rank of exceptionally attractive agents — “swallows” for the female agents, “ravens” for the male agents — who were trained in the art of seduction. They would exploit the fact that so many of the lower-level operatives in the great machinery of the intelligence and diplomatic community tended to be rather awkward and “bookish”. Dare we say it, nerdy? Data analysts, cryptographers, propellor-heads. These were the days before the personal computer, so a great many tasks had to be done by hand, and that required a great many nerds. These nerds were extremely susceptible to sexual seduction.

Legend has it that the KGB’s agents, both male and female, were almost astonishingly gorgeous. They would recruit dancers, athletes, gymnasts. Obviously the agent had to be attractive, but most importantly, they had to be extremely intelligent, and the two traits combined created an almost unstoppable force when targeted at the right people.

Ironically, the program’s own success turned out to be its own downfall. The Soviets had such great success with their honeypot program that they started using it too much. Sir Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to Washington, said recently that the Soviets would throw honeypots at significant targets with an almost reckless abandon. “They were everywhere in the Soviet days,” he said. If they looked like Anna Chapman above… it can’t have been all bad.

What’s the best clandestine effort you’ve ever managed to thwart? It could have been a surprise party, a hacker, or some sneaky way of trying to get you to share a secret, but we’ve all managed to swing a victory somehow. What’s your tale?

  • PrawoJazdy

    I want her to have all my Russian spy babies. All of them.

  • name_too_long

    Back when I used to run private servers I always ran a honeypot FTP on port 21 to catch the skiddies who would scan me. When they connected they'd get hit with a drive-by exploit on FlashFXP that sent me all the sites and logins they had saved; post those up on the right forums and tah-dah, scene-banned within the hour.

  • I manage to get people to cop to stuff that's secret by claiming to already know about it.

    "So…heard about you and Steve…"
    "What?! Who told you?!"

    "You just did"

    Surprisingly effective if delivered correctly.

    • Steve is a filthy liar!

      No, wait, what did you hear, exactly?

      • The Professor

        Are you sure you want that repeated in public?

  • tonyola

    The Soviets also got pretty good at targeting gay diplomatic and intelligence personnel, especially at a time when to be "outed" meant the loss of a job and possible public disgrace. The commies would provide willing partners for their victims, then threaten to expose them with photographs and other evidence unless they cooperated.

  • Charles_Barrett

    In a somewhat related vein, while I was still at Caltech, one evening a short, serious gentleman in a tweed jacket approached me as I was cleaning up tables in the diningroom. He approached me calmly, while looking at his leather-bound notepad, and asked me "Did you know Lisa Penninger?" (a very nice and brilliant young lady who had graduated the previous year; we were housemates my freshmen year).
    My heart sank and I immediately replied
    "Yes! Is she alright?" Hearing him use the past-tense made me fear the worst.
    Turns out he was just investigating her for a security clearance, and Lisa had listed me as a reference.
    That's the only cloak-and-dagger episode that comes to my mind just now.

  • domino_vitali

    i can't believe i missed spy week. stupid real life getting in the way of virtual life…

    i'm just now getting through all of the gadget, cryptography, and honeytrap goodness. better late than never. thanks for the great articles, atomic toasters! 🙂