Book Image

Python for Secret Agents - Volume II - Second Edition

By : Steven F. Lott, Steven F. Lott
Book Image

Python for Secret Agents - Volume II - Second Edition

By: Steven F. Lott, Steven F. Lott

Overview of this book

Python is easy to learn and extensible programming language that allows any manner of secret agent to work with a variety of data. Agents from beginners to seasoned veterans will benefit from Python's simplicity and sophistication. The standard library provides numerous packages that move beyond simple beginner missions. The Python ecosystem of related packages and libraries supports deep information processing. This book will guide you through the process of upgrading your Python-based toolset for intelligence gathering, analysis, and communication. You'll explore the ways Python is used to analyze web logs to discover the trails of activities that can be found in web and database servers. We'll also look at how we can use Python to discover details of the social network by looking at the data available from social networking websites. Finally, you'll see how to extract history from PDF files, which opens up new sources of data, and you’ll learn about the ways you can gather data using an Arduino-based sensor device.
Table of Contents (12 chapters)
Python for Secret Agents Volume II
About the Author
About the Reviewer


Secret agents are dealers and brokers of information. Information that's rare or difficult to acquire has the most value. Getting, analyzing, and sharing this kind of intelligence requires a skilled use of specialized tools. This often includes programming languages such as Python and its vast ecosystem of add-on libraries.

The best agents keep their toolkits up to date. This means downloading and installing the very latest in updated software. An agent should be able to analyze logs and other large sets of data to locate patterns and trends. Social network applications such as Twitter can reveal a great deal of useful information.

An agent shouldn't find themselves stopped by arcane or complex document formats. With some effort, the data in a PDF file can be as accessible as the data in a plain text file. In some cases, agents need to build specialized devices to gather data. A small processing such as an Arduino can gather raw data for analysis and dissemination; it moves the agent to the Internet of Things.

What this book covers

Chapter 1, New Missions – New Tools, addresses the tools that we're going to use. It's imperative that agents use the latest and most sophisticated tools. We'll guide field agents through the procedures required to get Python 3.4. We'll install the Beautiful Soup package, which helps you analyze and extract data from HTML pages. We'll install the Twitter API so that we can extract data from the social network. We'll add PDFMiner3K so that we can dig data out of PDF files. We'll also add the Arduino IDE so that we can create customized gadgets based on the Arduino processor.

Chapter 2, Tracks, Trails, and Logs, looks at the analysis of bulk data. We'll focus on the kinds of logs produced by web servers as they have an interesting level of complexity and contain valuable information on who's providing intelligence data and who's gathering this data. We'll leverage Python's regular expression module, re, to parse log data files. We'll also look at ways in which we can process compressed files using the gzip module.

Chapter 3, Following the Social Network, discusses one of the social networks. A field agent should know who's communicating and what they're communicating about. A network such as Twitter will reveal social connections based on who's following whom. We can also extract meaningful content from a Twitter stream, including text and images.

Chapter 4, Dredging Up History, provides you with essential pointers on extracting useful data from PDF files. Many agents find that a PDF file is a kind of dead-end because the data is inaccessible. There are tools that allow us to extract useful data from PDF. As PDF is focused on high-quality printing and display, it can be challenging to extract data suitable for analysis. We'll show some techniques with the PDFMiner package that can yield useful intelligence. Our goal is to transform a complex file into a simple CSV file, very much similar to the logs that we analyzed in Chapter 2, Tracks, Trails, and Logs.

Chapter 5, Data Collection Gadgets, expands the field agent's scope of operations to the Internet of Things (IoT). We'll look at ways to create simple Arduino sketches in order to read a typical device; in this case, an infrared distance sensor. We'll look at how we will gather and analyze raw data to do instrument calibration.

What you need for this book

A field agent needs a computer over which they have administrative privileges. We'll be installing additional software. A secret agent without the administrative password may have trouble installing Python 3 or any of the additional packages that we'll be using.

For agents using Windows, most of the packages will come prebuilt using the .EXE installers.

For agents using Linux, developer's tools are required. The complete suite of developer's tools is generally needed. The Gnu C Compiler (GCC) is the backbone of these tools.

For agents using Mac OS X, the developer's tool, XCode, is required and can be found at We'll also need to install a tool called homebrew ( to help us add Linux packages to Mac OS X.

Python 3 is available from the Python download page at

We'll download and install several things beyond Python 3.4 itself:

  • The Pillow package will allow us to work with image files:

  • The Beautiful Soup version 4 package will allow us to work with HTML web pages:

  • The Twitter API package will let us search the social network:

  • We'll use PDF Miner 3k to extract meaningful data from PDF files:

  • We'll use the Arduino IDE. This comes from We'll also want to install PySerial:

  • This should demonstrate how extensible Python is. Almost anything an agent might need is already be written and available through the Python Package Index (PyPi) at

Who this book is for

This book is for field agents who know a little bit of Python and are very comfortable installing new software. Agents must be ready, willing, and able to write some new and clever programs in Python. An agent who has never done any programming before may find some of this a bit advanced; a beginner's tutorial in the basics of Python may be helpful as preparation.

We'll expect that an agent using this book is comfortable with simple mathematics. This involves some basic statistics and elementary geometry.

We expect that secret agents using this book will be doing their own investigations as well. The book's examples are designed to get the agent started down the road to develop interesting and useful applications. Each agent will have to explore further afield on their own.


In this book, you will find a number of text styles that distinguish between different kinds of information. Here are some examples of these styles and an explanation of their meaning.

Code words in text, package names, folder names, filenames, file extensions, pathnames, dummy URLs, user input, and Twitter handles are shown as follows: "We can include other contexts through the use of the include directive."

A block of code is set as follows:

from fractions import Fraction
p = 0
for i in range(1, 2000):
    p += Fraction(1, i**2)
print( (p*6)**Fraction(1/2) )

When we wish to draw your attention to a particular part of a code block, the relevant lines or items are set in bold:

from fractions import Fraction
p = 0
for i in range(1, 2000):
    p += Fraction(1, i**2)
print( (p*6)**Fraction(1/2) )

Any command-line input or output is written as follows:

$ python3.4 -m doctest

New terms and important words are shown in bold. Words that you see on the screen, for example, in menus or dialog boxes, appear in the text like this: "Clicking the Next button moves you to the next screen."


Warnings or important notes appear in a box like this.


Tips and tricks appear like this.

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