Nobody knows who’s hiding behind the moniker of The Shadow Brokers, the mysterious group who earlier this week dumped a slew of hacking tools belonging to the NSA. Is it the Russian government? Is it actually a disgruntled rogue NSA insider?
For now, there’s no hard evidence pointing in either direction. But The Shadow Brokers’ language in their rambling manifesto might give us some clues. In fact, the apparent broken English might just be a ruse, a trick to make us believe the author doesn’t speak the language, according to a linguistic analysis of it.
“The author is a native English speaker trying to pass himself off as a foreigner,” Jeffrey Carr, CEO of cybersecurity company Taia Global, told Motherboard.
“The author is a native English speaker trying to pass himself off as a foreigner.”
Shlomo Argamon, Taia Global’s chief science advisor and a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, analyzed The Shadow Broker’s manifesto and thinks that the broken English, and its mistakes and errors, are intentional.
For example, the hackers omit definite and indefinite articles, confuse past and present tense, and miss the infinitive “to.” Yet, the spelling is entirely correct throughout the text, and the errors are inconsistent, and there are grammatical errors in idioms that a low-skilled English speaker wouldn’t probably know.
“Someone was inserting errors, rather than making them naturally,” Argamon wrote in his analysis shared exclusively with Motherboard. “The most reasonable explanation, then, is that the errors were inserted by a native speaker after writing the idioms.”
Alexey Kovalev, an English Russian translator and the editor of Noodle Remover, agreed with Argamon’s analysis.
“It almost looks like an effort to appear in poor possession of English skills [...] it's almost like they're deliberately writing in broken English to divert attention,” Kovalev told Motherboard. “There's enough material to assume the author is actually a native English speaker who attempts to appear foreign.”
Even if Argamon’s analysis is correct, it still doesn’t really unmask the hackers. But at least it gives us another small clue into their potential identities, and perhaps even their motives. It does, however, raise more questions: why are the hackers pretending not to know English? Did they intentionally want people to take that as a sign that they were Russian? For now, we can only speculate.