Can we determine who an anonymous author is?

January 5th, 2012

These tools may do the trick!

Now graduate students at Drexel University have released two potentially provocative stylometry tools, which could have larger repercussions for whistle-blowers, human rights advocates, hackers and, well, anyone who doesn’t want their writing traced back to them down the road. One tool helps identify the author of a disputed document, and another helps authors avoid detection. The students released early, “alpha” versions of their tools on Thursday at a convention of the Chaos Computer Club, a hackers’ group, in Berlin.

The tools, which are still young, imperfect and buggy, build on existing author recognition tools like Signature, a program created by Peter Millican of Oxford University, and the Java Graphical Authorship Attribution Program, or JGAAP, a similar program designed by Patrick Juola of Duquesne University.

The researchers said their recognition tool, JStylo, works best within a limited suspect pool (50 people or less), when there are 6,500 words of available writing samples per suspect (Tweets, e-mails and instant messages will do) and if the disputed document is 500 words or longer. Within those parameters, Drexel researchers said, they can identify an author “with a very high level of accuracy.”