Is Anyone Watching?

Recently I conducted an experiment. I wrote an essay “What’s Hidden?” in which I claimed that the essay had a hidden secret message in it. I coded the message using a very simple method — to read it you need to combine together all the capital letters in the essay.

The goal of the experiment was to audit intelligence agencies of different countries. I wanted to check if this essay would draw any special attention.

Intelligence agencies should crawl around the web and check places that might have secret messages. They might also want to sieve Internet data through some standard coding techniques and check if there are coded messages out there. But the Internet is so vast that most agencies might not have the resources to parse through all the web pages. They probably only analyze suspected pages.

Anyway, I wanted to see if my traffic for this essay would be different from the usual. I have a tool for that — Google Analytics, which provides aggregated geographical data of my traffic. Looking at the results I can see that the visits to this particular essay were mostly from the United States, with a few from Europe. The total number of visits was small, especially compared to my essay on masturbation.

If an intelligence agency has any intelligence it should hide its visits from Google Analytics and crawl around the web without being registered. For example, they can use cached Google pages.

So my intention in this experiment was to check for any agency that had so much time and money on their hands that they were monitoring the entire web and, at the same time, was dumb enough to leave a trail. I am happy to conclude that there is no such agency, with only one potential exception: my home country — the United States.



  1. Tracker:

    Consider a text declaring “I contain a secret message”. Does this declaration increase the probability of it containing a secret message? Well, it is not really a well-defined problem, but anyway. Bluffs, double bluffs, triple bluffs, etc!

    My guess is that agency screening would start off with a key word (or possibly key phrase) profile before it conducted any form of semantic analysis. So you should have spiced up your posting a bit. NIST only knows :). Anyway, fun experiment. It reminds me of the days when we wondered at work how to find out if someone was tapping our phones. Of course, these days you can tap not just networks but also computers.

    Bad statistics interpretation is a pet hate of mine, so I love your entertaining education attempts in this direction – like the one on doing homework. My own favorite example is the correlation between people having long hair and getting pregnant.

    Great site.

  2. chee tji hun:

    most automated crawlers do not have javascript interpreters and would not leave a trace on google analytics, unless they were written with the expectation of finding secret messages hidden in javascript mechanisms. Hmmmm.