back to article How an app called WarmTouch nailed a grenade-stockpiling cyber extortionist

When the president of a prestigious patent and trademarking firm began receiving emails threatening to bring down its operations unless he paid a $17m ransom, he knew he had to take action. He reported the incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but agents were unable to identify the culprit. So he retained the …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    Thought Police have arrived!

    On paper, cool concept and a subject for a great fictional novel. In real life, scary stuff, especially if a government has the ability to correlate an individuals identity of one of its own citizens, and rate any potential threat based on any grammar used, in any forum.

    Note: Not rhetorical question! Hypothetical Ahead Alert!!!!

    Imagine if Google had been breeched by a government agency, who had a list of forum aliases based on email addresses?

    I chose, well, 'him', because... um, you know....

  2. Anonymous Coward

    holy crap!

    "technically adept man older than 30 who had trouble fitting in at work and in social situations ... with a stockpile of weapons"

    That's me! Errr, except for the weapons. Honest.

    Mine's the one with the felt collar

  3. Joe

    I hate April Fools Day, in a way

    It's the one day of the year that I actually check the facts of a story.

    In a way, AFD on the net is more of an education, in that we should all check the facts on a story, rather than going of half-cocked and reacting.

    I would just like to thank The Register (and indeed, all the other great websites that participate in this AFD japery) for providing such a good education.

    As for the article, I was about to write it off as another AFD joke, but a little facts checking (And checking the date/time it was posted - little late for AFD) dissuaded that.

    I would be quite interested in using this to have a look at some of my emails as well. It could be quite a good corporate tool.

    The internet: Increasing paranoia one AFD at a time.

  4. Fashtas

    Same old same old

    It is always a "Quiet white male over the age of 30 who has problems fitting in at work, a loner who has trouble in social situations"... *always*

    That bloody software probably has one button and a messagebox that pops up with that exact same message over and over

  5. Eugene Goodrich


    That's all I have to say, really. Warm fuzzies for having been gotten. (I had my skepticism, but it was misdirected.) Well done!

  6. FatherStorm

    defeating Warmtouch.

    How to defeat WarmTouch.

    Compose your missive.

    go to and translate it between different languages a minimum of 3 times, ending in your target language.

    send your missive.

  7. Lou Gosselin

    An unusual suspect...

    I wonder would it would say about amanfromMars?

  8. Jon Tocker


    And you wind up with a missive not unlike one of amanfrommars's posts or the "English" instruction manual from a Taiwanese hardware manufacturer, thus misdirecting the Forces of Evil^H^H^H^HLaw towards innocent bystanders.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Me Me Me Me Me!

    Ooohhh it's like cracker, why did you force her? why did you force her?

    I could save these agencies a lot of time and money with my 'one size fits all' criminal profile....

    The suspect you are looking for is likely to be male, between 20 and 45 - possibly still living with his mother.

    He had a troubled childhood, possibly suffered some form of abuse or bullying and has difficulty with authority figures, and members of the opposite sex.

    Oh and he may be stockpiling weapons and pornography.

    Look out for high frequency of words in his communication like Die, Kill, Cocaine, AK-47, Bomb, and Barbra Windsor.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DVLA would have given him their home addresses

    Realize that in the UK, this grenade nutter could have gone to the car park, got the registration plates of the employees and courtesy of the DVLA made claims to need their details. Then got their families at home.

    What a stupid idea it was handing out the car registration details they were entrusted with. A case of the blind leading the..... home office. I guess Blunket didn't have a car so he's safe.

  11. James Anderson
    Thumb Up

    Absense of AMANFROMMARS

    No posting from AMANFROMMARS!

    Perhaps our Alien friend is worried by this.

    "Suspect is 400 year green skinned, 6 limbed male, technically adept but has problems communicating with other species, suspect probably has access to family nuclear arsenal".

  12. Jason Edmunds

    Can you please remove this story...

    ...before someone from Phorm reads it.

    Last thing I need is all my emails being 'profiled' to see what I'm into.

    I already get enough emails offering products to enhance that particular activity, thank you very much.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    another load of bollocks

    send it to bad science

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh, please...

    "...ingredients for the deadly poison ricin..." Do you mean caster beans? (available at any garden centre) Also, just for the record Ricin is a rubbish poison, AFAIK it has to be introduced into the blood stream. The only death that I have ever heard of was that spy in London who was stabbed with the poison umberella.

    "...and a stockpile of parts for making improvised grenades..." A quick look round my house reveals suitable equipment to make a grenade. Small tupperware-type container, potash based fertiliser for the garden, activated carbon for the fish tank filter, a victorian chemical bottle for flowers of sulphur (actually it's probably never coming out as it is now a bottle shaped lump of sulphur) and some screws in my tool box.

    I dare say that there are many more chemicals that most people own that can be pressed into service as rudimentary explosives or poisons.

    Regular poster, but posted anon, due to paranoia. (I have a beard)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    "the suspect was a technically adept man older than 30 who had trouble fitting in at work and in social situations"

    But that's the entire IT industry! Except that lots of IT people nowadays aren't technically adept. The rest of it fits to a T.

  16. Dave

    @Jason Edmunds

    maybe they could call it 'PhormTouch',

    its only a small addition to the phorm code thats needed... instead of discarding the SMTP and POP3 packets, you scan them to find out what type of incendiary device you can advertise to the sender. (no phorm, this isn't a valid business plan)

    ...on second thoughts, what would warmtouch output if you gave it one of George Bush's infamous quotes?

    "technically inept monkey, shouldn't be older than 10, has trouble boiling a kettle or speaking to members of its own species.... with a stockpile of weapons"

  17. Pete Silver badge

    what a great piece of advertising

    Considering the number of times the product name is mentioned, this looks simply like a piece of sales copy.

    This idoesn't appear to be anything different from what a human profiler does anyway - it certainly seems to produce the same results (as other posters here have noted). It's then just a case of rounding up the usual suspects and seeing which one(s) fits the description.

    However, coming from THE COMPUTER it must be right and therefore is above criticism from us, mere mortals. No doubt a jury of the gullible, uneducated and computer illiterate - sorry: your peers will just swallow it's output, hook, line and sinker and come up with the "right" decision.Which is, afterall, what the detective agency is paid to do.

  18. Wayland Sothcott

    Phorm service?

    Phorm would probably install this on their server. I would then get all the Barbra Windsor and AK-47 adverts come up.

  19. John

    Bollocks! Anyone for a cup of tea?

    This anecdote might support the testable hypothesis that terrorist profiling is valid.

    Except it doesn't because terrorist profiling is woowoo.

    1. Terrorism is like porn, you know it when you see it, but otherwise defies an incontroveritible definition. See art vs. porn, freedom fighter vs evil doer.

    2. Terrorists form a tiny fraction of any population (even in Iraq) so any detection system will need an % accuracy to 5 decimal places (yes folks that's 99.99999%). See 'base-rate fallacy'.

    3. Developed by people who believe Freud had something worthwhile to say. See 'ad-hominem', but I couldn't resist.

    Your daily horoscope is probably more effective, or divination through tea-leaves. Hey, now there's a testable hypothesis, so I shall leave the reader to ponder the following:

    Q. Which has the greater efficacy Warmtouch or Warmtea?

    Choccy biccy anyone?

  20. Senor Beavis

    Disguise your emails

    In the same way as you would distort your voice on phone calls, run your email through google translation tools to a foreign language and back again, or ideally something offline now I think a bit about it. Master crim I am not

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    I versus We

    I recently wrote a report at work, in which almost every incidence of "we" was changed to "I".

    Does this mean that I'm a "loner" rather than a "team player" as the software claims? No, it just means that a right tosser in the office was mounting a campaign to claim the credit for my achievements that week, despite having had no part whatsoever in the work...

    But let's not let that stand in the way of forming conclusions based on incomplete data. Bloody feed of shite.

    We really need a "snake oil" icon.

  22. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Normally ......

    And of course, one man's "grenade-stockpiling cyber extortionist" is another man's CyberIntelAIgent financial wizard and never the twain shall meet.

    In abnormal times, anything can happen and invariably does ..... Sod's Law/God's Wish? :-)

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How long till the US and British governments try and connect this to all our pipes to profile us all. *sigh* It'd be a joke if I didn't think they'd try it. Or just do it re phorm and then use RIPA to legalise it.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    RE: Still Waters Run Rich and dDeep in AI Quiet Man.

    I see a amanfromMars is already using something similar :p

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Let's face it

    I'm male, over 40, struggle in social situations and live on my own, so I'm obviously a paedophile or a weirdo or potential unabomber.

    Most crimes against the person are committed by a friend, acquaintance or, most commonly, a relative. Statistically, you or your child are safer with a stranger, even if he is a middle-aged, unsociable loner like me.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    @ amanfromMars

    Reading your drivel makes me shudder.

    You're not clever, you're just fucking annoying.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    @AC @@amanfrommMars

    Reading his drivel provides a sanity check! As soon as he starts making sense, I know THEY are putting too much flouride in the water...

  28. Mat

    I've sussed it.

    amanfromMars writes a perfectly coherent missive and then uses Babalfish.altavista to translate it from coherent English to another language and translates that translation back to English again (with random capitalisation)

  29. Darkside


    Don't they realise (rhetorical question) that women over 30 who are technically adept but have trouble fitting in at work and in social situations can stockpile weapons too?


  30. Law

    @AC @@amanfrommMars

    Burn the unbeliever!!!!

    When the thought police come for us, amanfrommars is the only weapon we have against them - imagine the machine trying to make sense of his comments - it would turn on it's masters and destroy them all - such is the power of the travelling one.

  31. ImaGnuber
    Thumb Up

    RE:Disguise your emails

    @Senor Beavis

    I think you were the first here to reveal amanfrommars secret method. I think the Reg should give you some kind of token award.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC @AC @@amanfrommMars

    >I know THEY are putting too much flouride in the water

    I think you mean bromide in his tea.

  33. Brett Brennan

    It's a TOOL fer Christ's sake!


    The assistance is appropriate: The part has formed, once an affected task/role either the role are simpler or, because of somebody, has not used ability, or ability laying aside something work regarding this manual implementation task/role. IWenn you Rohrleitungschlüssel the use, the nail injunction, have adopted the ViceGrips (r) general key words, or the position angle makes the winning bid this screwdriver to start you to use Philip to live the type, WarmTouch fehl.anwenden.

    came from this:

    协助是合适的: 部件形成了,一旦一个感动的任务或角色是更加简单的或,因为某人,没有使用能力,或者能力放置某事工作对此手工实施任务。 IWenn您Rohrleitungschlüssel使用,钉子嘱咐,采取了ViceGrips (r)通用关键字,或者位角落盘该螺丝刀开始您使用菲利普居住类型, WarmTouch fehl.anwenden。

    which came from this:

    L'aide est juste : L'unité a formé une fois une tâche passionnée/rôle d'être plus simple ou a causé quelqu'un, n'a pas utilisé la capacité, ou le pouvoir met quelque chose en oeuvre mettre manuellement la tâche en oeuvre. Des IWenn vous un Rohrleitungschlüssel utilisent, le clou exhorte, a pris le ViceGrips (R) la clé générale, ou celui tournevis de bit Quoin plats vous commence à utiliser les Philip vis le type, WarmTouch fehl.anwenden.

    which came from this:

    Das Hilfsmittel ist gerecht: Die Einheit bildete einmal eine eifrige Aufgabe/eine Rolle, einfacher zu sein oder verursachte jemand, verwendete nicht die Fähigkeit, oder die Stärke führt etwas durch, die Aufgabe manuell durchzuführen. Wenn Sie einen Rohrleitungschlüssel verwenden, der Nagel antreibt, nahm das ViceGrips (R) den allgemeinen Schlüssel, oder der flache Bitschraubenzieher Quoin fängt an, die Philip Schraube zu verwenden der Typ, Sie fehl.anwenden WarmTouch.

    which came from this:

    工具是正义的: 设备曾经使一项艰巨任务更加简单,或者使某人,不用技能或力量手工执行某事完成任务。 如果您是使用一把管道扳手驾驶钉子, ViceGrips (r)作为通用扳手或平面刀片螺丝刀的角落启用菲利普螺丝的类型,您误用WarmTouch。

    Which started as:

    A tool is just that: a device used to make an arduous task simpler, or to enable someone without the skill/strength to do something manually to accomplish the task themselves. If you're the type that uses a pipe spanner to drive nails, ViceGrips (r) as the Universal spanner or the corner of a flat-blade screwdriver to turn Phillips screws, you're going to misuse WarmTouch as well.

    'Nuff said.

    (Thanks to and SYSTRAN)

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Let's face it

    Yeah but that uncomfortable and unexciting fact doesn't make for exciting news, scare mongering, witchhunts, films, television dramas or real crime reenactments.

  35. pctechxp

    Software as judge, jury and errr gulp, executioner

    Governments of today see technology as the panacea to all ills, automatic targeting weapons, software that can profile an individual based on voice stress or sentence structure and can issue fines automatically for offences such as forgetting to renew your car tax against which you have no right of appeal *coughs* DVLA *coughs*

    Cant be long now till we have hordes of ANPR equipped tanks blowing up vehicles with depleted uranium shells for alleged tax evasion (though poor honest John bought his tax last week but due a crashed process the server wasn't updated) and terminators despatching alleged criminals based on their voice stress score or contents of monitored e-mail which has also been scored (Spamassassin often makes mistakes)

    My point being that all this stuff has a margin of error but is sold as being infallible by the corporations pushing it.

    Lets hope someone wakes up and smells the manure before they link all these systems and make them autonomous.

    As for the comments posted by amanfromMars I think they provide light relief but I do reckon he's a bot.

    Someone direct me to where I can buy an underground bunker

  36. Rob

    Wrong section....

    .... shouldn't this be in Rise of the Machines section rather than policing? Strap this prog to an AI and hello Skynet goodbye reasoning and life. I am worried, we should be scarred and it's me that'll probably be first in the firing line ;)

    P.S. Just for good measure I I I I, me me me me, we we we we

  37. Herby

    What happens when they apply it to ElReg's stories?

    This could get VERY interesting. Have the program scan ALL the stories and catagorize the authors. It might make interesting reading.

  38. Funky Dennis

    Total bollox

    Here's a little (a lot of) light reading about criminal profiling, kindly pointed out to me by a Reg reader a while back:

    It's just cold reading, and it can do more harm than good.

    “I would say that on the whole you can be rather a quiet, self effacing type, but when the circumstances are right, you can be quite the life and soul of the party if the mood strikes you.”

    What chance that this software is any better? SFA.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    Socially Hampered IT Anonymous

    I think that we shouldn't be monitored by such invasive software. My opinion, speaking strictly for myself but also for all those of us that are overmonitored and underpaid, my opinion is that we have all got to take action before it's too late for any of us. Such software should be outlawed as far as I'm concerned: I feel my options narrowing as I speak. It's like we're all walking down a long hall where the walls get closer and closer together and...

  40. trackSuit

    Putting two mirrors together

    "I wonder would it would say about amanfromMars?"

    It might say he is a very cunning linguist. :-D

    It might (also?) reveal something of the thinking of the programmer and its users.

    Though that would depend on how clever the program is IT?

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We need to stop the other 'professionals' taking over IT

    Licensing the usage of computer systems is a step forward. There is no way this guy could have developed an AI capable of making these deductions without it already be self evident.

    There is no magic in what he has produced most developers analyse language this way anyhow. It is trivial to create something like this.

    We need to band together to keep the barbarians from the gate - whilst this psych boy can gouge himself on various psychotropics we should hold the keys to information technology, and that includes AI. We don't need any flim flam artists getting in the way.

    And it sounds like from his last comment that he is a repressed little chappy, liable to snap at any moment; if I was his wife I would be worried.

  42. tim

    the improved version "hotspanker" :

    this is the new version being currently field-tested in the middle east theatres for further worldwide deployment by the new world government collectively known as the U.N.. the flying drones and crawling gun platforms, as well as the emplaced turret systems , are enjoying a greater degree of efficacy in targeting suitable fleshsacks that are designated as "eliminable"; by utilising the warmtouch/vista derived integrated targeting software that has been loaded into their processing shells.

    expect to see it in your yard soon :]-

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Surely there's nothing new about this technology?

    (and no, I won't stop calling you shirley).

    Literary types have been doing it ever since they first got computers in universities.

  44. Anonymous Coward


    "Someone direct me to where I can buy an underground bunker"

    Er, underground?

    Sorry, couldn't resist it.

    Mine's the sackcloth and ashes.

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