Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
What is Rapid Information Overlay Technology or RIOT Software?
The RIOT application monitors social media such as Twitter and chat rooms to monitor behavior, detect patterns and look for changes. Also called the RIOT Content Management Framework or RIOT CMF, this tool has been called the software for spies and the intersection of Big Brother and Big Data.
What exactly is RIOT? What does it do? And how is it different from the social network analysis tools that came before it? How is Rapid Information Overlay Technology used by the NSA along with other software tools Edward Snowden has revealed to the public?
How is RIOT Different?
RIOT Content Management Framework or RIOT CMF software takes the complex process of looking for social networking profiles, Tweets, blogs, location information embedded within photos and other bits and bytes of data and aggregates them. It can be described as a social network data mining software tool, though it does much more than this due to the large-scale data analysis it also performs.
Chinese analysts, stalkers and detectives have been able to search the web for days to find someone’s real name, email address, address and personal details. This wasn't eliminated by the OPM data hack; that simply gave them more information to fill in their own files on potential targets.
Facebook does this to a degree with all data its users have, creating “timelines” and detailed analyses for marketing. Where RIOT is different is the fact that it can collect this data across the web, including many different social networking platforms, and turn days of research into minutes or (at most) a few hours of data crunching.
RIOT software automates the process of identifying relationships and creating maps of connected individuals. If there is a political group online, RIOT software means that a system admin can identify those individuals who have the most connections, have the most influence within the group based on distribution of their posts and use the most emotionally charged language. Then authorities know who to dissuade, whose profile to take down or silence.
RIOT software by Raytheon can search for the location information embedded within pictures you post. Then it can create a timeline and map, showing where you were and when. If you have a habit of taking pictures and posting them, or if someone traveling with you is doing the same, you could be found via this information even if your phone’s GPS is turned off and there is no OnStar GPS device in your car. However, RIOT CMF is not cyber-tracking software in the sense that it regularly checks your location and reports it to someone.
The data mining behind RIOT quickly generates a full picture of your behavior. You check your personal email in the morning or post plans for the day on Twitter. You check Facebook or another social networking site before heading off to work. You check these news websites on your lunch break and comment on them under XYZ account. In the evening, you log into SecondLife, FreeRepublic or another site.
This information is useful to any number of groups, from someone who wants to successfully imitate you to someone who wants to steal your identity to government officials who want to know the best time to show up at your home because you’re asleep. The use of data mining and large-scale analytics means that RIOT analyzes your online activity quickly, creates user-friendly maps of your prior locations and can map out your typical pattern of activities in minutes if not hours instead of a human painstakingly searching and assembling this data over the course of days or weeks.
Don’t Riot over RIOT – Why Riot Software Isn’t Unique
While RIOT data-mines across many different platforms to build an aggregate of your behavior and predict future behavior, Facebook and Google have similar information analytics of their users.
RIOT is innovative because it can be applied to any social media site it can access, thus isn't limited to one particular website or platform. Remember that anything you do online can be carefully researched and analyzed even by hand; China has had its online armies doing this for phishing and information gathering operations for years.
RIOT may be the ultimate in Big Brother / Big Data collaboration to date. However, this isn't its only market or the only application with this potential. Employers have the right to monitor employee behavior on the corporate network.
Software like keystroke loggers and data leak protection applications watch for suspicious behavior and reports it to system administrators, while many companies record the information sent in every fax or capture images of every copy made. Even if your actions are not captured by RIOT, actions taken on a company owned network can be documented in detail by your employer. The same can be true of shared computers in locations like libraries and internet cafes.
Facebook and Google use data mining and social network analysis applications, but they don't data mine the whole web to build profiles on specific individuals and groups.
Remember that the ultimate privacy is the most primitive one. Do not say aloud what you don't want others to know. Do not post every detail of your life online if you don’t want the information to be scanned, parsed and collated.
Only share information in methods that are hard to be distributed to those without a need to know, such as only talking about it in private with those you know and trust. Go retro and sent a letter; that isn't scanned and searched as easily as your email and online discussions can be.
Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on March 24, 2013:
This is very interesting information. And I'm not surprised to see Raytheon behind Riot. RIOT software clearly gives more invisible power to companies and governments with the resources to use it, and that is of some concern. But I agree we can't focus on just one tool that traces our actions.