At first this sounded like a joke. Pirates like to tweet, have blogs and are on Facebook. Really?
According to security expert, Jessica Lincoln, director of intelligence at Rubicon Resolution, “Somalia is a very sophisticated economy, it has one of the best mobile phone communication systems in the world.” By tracking tweets, Facebook entries and other social media, security experts working for shipping companies can piece together news and relationships in the pirate community and in organizations like al-Qaeda’s Somali affiliate Al-Shabaab. Not surprisingly for the Internet, some care is required, however. ”Actually getting verified information from within Somalia is very difficult, because anybody can tweet, anybody can post anything,” Lincoln said.
#Pirate? Tracking modern buccaneers through Twitter
Lincoln has put together data from social media, mainstream media, academics, governmental organizations, and NGOs to create a virtual representation of the social networking web of pirates in Somalia. Her work — aggregated from online sources — has drawn the interest of shippers and government intelligence agencies.
Her work was on display at a recent shipping conference in Hong Kong, where more than half the conference dealt with risks and crises in this field, suggesting the industry’s growing concern with violence and piracy.
But the same weakness Lincoln exploits can favor criminals. Shipping companies, like all listed enterprises, are required to disclose information like vessel sizes, their expenses in armed escorts and usual routes.
Pirates are armed with increasingly sophisticated technology and ample online access to stay ahead of the game. As a result, the high-seas clash between pirates and commercial shippers is becoming more of a technology race, security experts say.
“[Pirates] are being more understanding of the shipping industry, because of the World Wide Web and the money they’ve got through ransom payments, they bought themselves the laptops, they’ve got their iPhones and their iPads,” said Lane Aldred, director of maritime and security services at Control Risks.
Thanks to Anne Maclachlan for passing along the article on the Facebook “All things nautical” page.