Why I Created Hunchly
Hunchly is a tool for Google Chrome that, when enabled, becomes your investigation wingman. Investigations can be many things, in fact we are all investigators of one form or another. Journalists telling a story, a travel blogger, a market research analyst, a police officer, or a security researcher tracking down a piece of malware. We are all investigating something when we are Googling, perusing Twitter feeds or reading forums. For all of us, it is fun work, wading through vast pools of information (and disinformation) to stitch together something that is more coherent than this post. It’s totally fun. Until it isn’t.
A few years ago I was preparing for a conference talk on some techniques I had developed to identify ISIS supporters on Twitter. A lot of the follow up research involved me browsing around, validating Twitter accounts, looking at propaganda and really, just lots of reading. Lots, and lots of reading. During this time there were a few events that took place (use your imagination) and immediately I recognized some of the people involved. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered seeing photos or friends lists or something that reminded me I had seen the suspects previously. After doggedly going through my browsing history, my notes, and scraps of text files I had, I found a profile page on Facebook. I raced over to it, to be presented with this:
That thumbs up with the bandage didn’t make me feel very good. In fact, if you have ever accidentally deleted an important file or lost a report you have been working on for 6 hours you will recognize the feeling. That big ball of lead in your stomach. That is your gut telling you that you fucked up.
This moment of dread and self-loathing culminated into the first thoughts I had around why what I had just experienced was still a problem in the age of Evernote, OneNote and 17 different browser plugins for taking shitty screenshots or converting HTML to PDF. These initial thoughts formed the basis for what would become Hunchly. Read on good soldier, read on.
Information is Transient
How many times do you hear people utter this phrase:
The Internet Never Forgets.
Bullshit. Anyone who is saying this has never done an online investigation or hasn’t read the two paragraphs before this one. They have never witnessed a trove of data from a now-suspended Twitter account disappear. Or a Facebook group that (surprise, surprise!) isn’t indexed by Google. The Internet forgets. Oh does it forget. Much like your car keys, it usually only forgets at pretty much the worst possible time.
The worst part of this is usually not that the Internet has forgotten something, it is that you had already seen something and you forgot to document it. Shame on you. But it is really hard to know that what you see today is going to be relevant two weeks or two months from now. I mean really hard.
Hunchly fixes this problem. It records every damn page you view. Social media, classifieds, cute kitten pictures, forums. Everything. Images and text. It shovels it all onto your hard drive for safe keeping. In fact, if you are reading this post right now with Hunchly enabled, you’ll have a perfectly archived copy of this magnificent creation. If you have seen a Facebook profile with Hunchly enabled, that profile is yours to peruse forever. Boom. Problem number one solved.
I Suck at Remembering Everything. So Do You.
Now it is one thing to take crappy notes or forget to take a screenshot, that we can forgive. However, what about those times when you are investigating something and you already have a bunch of good leads or information to go on? Maybe you have phone numbers, email addresses, Twitter handles, URLs, or MD5 hashes. This is usually awesome, it means you have a starting point.
But it is also not awesome when you need to remember more than one of them at a time. Oh and do you right-click in your browser and select “View Source” on every page you visit? Didn’t think so.
Hunchly has this cool thing called Selectors. You can punch as many as you want into Hunchly, and that little sucker will remember each and every one of them. Phone numbers, emails, usernames, whatever you like. As you browse around, it is scanning every page and the underlying HTML for those selectors. If it hits one, it will notify you in your Chrome extension bar to let you know that you might be on to something.
Problem two solved. What else is left?
Investigation Fatigue and Shitty Tools
You know how it is. You start diving into an investigation, and you find something exciting. Maybe it is a little tidbit that of information that links two social media accounts. Maybe it is a picture that you recognize from a previous account. At this point, all documentation goes out the window as you chase down these fresh leads, bouncing from site to site with reckless abandon. Then you hit a dead end. You slump in your chair. You realize that you don’t even remember how you got to where you are and how to get back to where you started. You have 27 browser tabs open. Shame on you.
Eventually you will fall prey to investigation fatigue. It happens to all of us. In fact, this is where some of the best investigative work happens. It is like being in the gym, you are in the zone and then boom: muscle failure. This indicates you were hitting it hard. The problem is that shitty tools don’t facilitate you operating your online investigations like this. They make you stop, and click. And stop, and click. All of this start and stop knocks you out of your investigative rhythm, especially if your tool involves switching out of your browser.
Hunchly doesn’t do this. Just turn it on, and go to town. When you hit the wall and you’re slumped in your chair: no worries. A pristine case history is waiting for your review so that you can easily backtrack to where you started. Hell, the wall can be hit at 5pm Friday and you can resume at 9AM Monday. No sweat. This is how the real world operates, and I built Hunchly to support it.
Hunchly is new. It has bugs, it needs some features, and like any software it needs more users. One thing I am committed to is making sure that your investigations become more streamlined, smoother, and more complete. One of the coolest things I had heard from one of my users was this:
“Hunchly has changed how I investigate. This just happened on its own, I just realized that I could move about more freely, spend less time worrying and know that the data is there. It was pretty liberating.”
Enough said in my books, but there is a long way to go. This blog will not just be about me singing the praises of this wonderful little blue man in your browser but you can check back for investigation tips and tricks.
Got questions? Hit me at: firstname.lastname@example.org