This week marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which were the single most devastating acts of terrorism on American soil. The widespread repercussions of 9/11 rippled throughout the world; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rise of ISIS, and the many instances of terrorism in Europe are all direct effects of the attack. The fight against global terrorism has become the top priority for most governments, but as our technology has advanced, a new kind of weapon has emerged, big data analytics.
Data insight has already revolutionized many of our most important resources including health care, science, marketing and manufacturing. But now, by directing these same techniques towards fighting terrorism, data insights are being used to pinpoint and identify terrorist activity before it starts, with an accuracy never seen before. In the same way that companies use data insight to discover what motivates customers, security organizations are using data as a way to see what motivates terrorists. The more information obtained from these prospective terrorists or terror accomplices, the deeper and more thorough the knowledge. Data insight not only provides information about the terrorist leaders, but their informants, suppliers and financers. Here is an in-depth look at how big data analytics is leading the fight against global terrorism.
Social media has for years been a bottomless well of marketing information; revealing users’ interests, activities and opinions. This data was sold to marketers to hone the perfect ad for the user. In the same vein, an in-depth study into social media behavior reveals individuals with a higher propensity toward joining terrorist groups. A massive study conducted by the Qatar Computing Research Institute analyzed 3 million tweets over a 3-month period, locating patterns and characteristics of ISIS supporters and opponents. The group created an algorithm that could predict with 87% accuracy whether an individual was sympathetic to ISIS. Some experts have estimated that ISIS members and supporters post to social media up to 90,000 times a day. With the enormous amount of data available, the challenge is to design methods to distinguish those merely showing support for terrorist groups, from those revealing proof of actual involvement and potential action.
Surveillance information provides data insight for locating terrorist groups in several areas of the middle east. The US military’s Cyber Center of Excellence tracks terrorist movement across Syria and Iraq using a GPU-powered database called GPUdb. GPUdb collects data from surveillance drones, combines it with other data sources like captured signals and messages, to make accurate connections in real-time. These connections can be used to predict where groups will be at a particular point in the future.
Another surprising source for data insight is in the mapping of certain infectious diseases. Because many terrorist groups are opposed to vaccination, outbreaks of certain diseases are common. Hospital data is collected and analyzed for disproportionate treatment of those diseases, and when connections are made, it’s highly likely that a strong terrorist presence is in the area. Furthermore, with DNA analysis, the country of origin of the terrorists can be deciphered.
The Dfuze System
One of the most recognized security errors that allowed for the September 11 attacks was the complete lack of communication between the FBI and the CIA. It’s widely known that both organizations had beneficial information, that if combined, would’ve painted a clear picture that an attack was happening. Dfuze is an information sharing system that has been used for years, mostly to fight against an early epidemic of terrorism, the IRA. Dfuze is now used across multiple countries, with the purpose of fighting terrorism in the middle east. Each country operating Dfuze can share their collected and encrypted information with others, providing opportunity for true data insight. The database receives a variety of content, like crime scene photography and information about the materials used in the attack.
With the September 11 attacks fresh in our minds, it’s important to reflect on the lessons we have learned since then. The concept of terrorism strikes fear into the hearts of all it touches, but with the help of our best minds working in data analytics, we have a strong chance against the ever-changing methods of our enemies.
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