Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The First Weapon Against Lone Terrorists: Big Data Analytics

            Since the tech bubble of the early 2000’s, companies near and far have been collecting loads of data from their customers. To companies in the e-commerce, social media or streaming verticals, the data they own is their lifeblood. It gives Facebook the ability to target users with marketing content that drives their revenue, where as companies like Netflix and Amazon use their data to recommend products and shows their consumers are likely to buy or view. Recently, many questions have been raised about users privacy and companies from Silicon Valley to New York City and beyond have had to walk a fine line between the ethical and unethical use of the data they collect. While the public is seemingly more lenient when it comes to how companies use data, they are increasingly weary of how governments use the same information. With the shocking revelations of the NSA data mining practices, the use of big data for public surveillance has garnered massive amounts of press and has sparked conversations about what is being used to help ensure our national security.
            In his article, The First Weapon Against Lone Terrorists: Big Data Analytics, Yaakov Lappin, examines how Israeli security officials are using Big Data Analytics to prevent lone wolf attacks in Israel. Lappin explains how social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook interactions are the prime tool used by Jihadi recruiters to radicalize fighters in the West. Lappin describes how Israeli intelligence analysts are using advanced algorithms to sift through troves of social media interactions to identify and thwart lone wolf plots.
            While one may argue that the Israeli government has a clear need and use for the program, regardless of the ethical questions of privacy that come with it, a definite case can be made that Western governments in Europe and North America should use the same tactics. In light of the recent attacks in Nice, Berlin, San Bernardino and New York, I believe that these programs are necessary and integral to protecting the citizens of western nations that find themselves increasingly under attack from Jihadis both foreign and domestic. I believe that society is facing a new age threat that requires new age thought to combat it. If there is reason to believe that an individual or an organization is conspiring to commit an act of terror or violence on the public, then it is within ethical standards to monitor the various forms of communication they are using. While there are absolutely cases where governments have overstepped their boundaries, it is clear that in this case, the ends clearly justify the means and although some may not like it, I feel that these practices are necessary to sustain western ideals and protect our way of life here at home.


  1. I completely agree in all aspects to Connor’s blog post. First, one point that he brought that I believe to be very true is that we as consumers don’t really care that Amazon, and Facebook sell information about us to other companies, but the second the government gets involved everyone seems to be up in arms. We are definitely more lenient when it comes to how companies use our data. Everyone is afraid of “Big Brother” when it comes to government using our data, but we seem to not have a care in the world when companies use it. Privacy in our world today is disappearing whether we like it or not.
    I think what Israel is doing to help fight lone wolf attacks is very interesting, and something that western countries, and the main European powers should all adopt. It’s almost impossible to detect, and thwart a lone wolf’s plot. By using these algorithms to go through tons and tons of data on social media they are finding certain interactions to help identify lone wolves. I cannot stress how vital I believe this can be to our nation today. ISIS is known for using social media platforms to reach out to its soldiers all over the world. If we were able to come up with a way to infiltrate these interactions we will be able to hopefully stop the next attack.
    When it comes to national security and defending the United States of America I am pretty much okay with anything that needs to be done to achieve that goal. We live in a more digital society and if our enemies are using the internet and social media to plan attacks or inspire soldiers then we need to be able to fight back using the same internet and social media platforms. A program like this one that the Israeli’s are using seems like a step in the right direction in the fight against terrorists. If someone is suspected of plotting/ carrying out a plan to kill Americans then I believe all privacy laws go out the window. I would rather have someone monitored intensely for an extended period of time and realize that that person is innocent than have our federal government sit back, do nothing, and hundreds of innocent people die. I completely agree with Connor when he said the ends clearly justify the means. When it comes to national security and the safety of our freedom we can never be too careful. Using these algorithms can most likely save American lives which is the priority. There are several cases where the FBI has monitored someone for a couple weeks or a few months and then that person ended up attacking our country. I understand it’s not practical to watch everyone, but there has to be a way to keep tabs on people who have come up on watch lists. Creating a way to stop social media being a platform for terrorists is definitely a priority.

  2. Connor’s blog post included strong points that I agree on. He mentioned how Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon have the ability to target users with personally curated content, such as recommended products and shows. Some people see this as a privacy concern, but some people also enjoy this data collection, since it allows them to have a much more tailored experience. When it comes down to data collection for personal recommendations the public is open to it, but when it comes down to the government collecting data from the public then there is a lot of distress.
    If it is a matter of national security, then I believe the government should collect data on the general public through social media outlets and online spaces. A lot of terrorist acts are planned on social media platforms, so it’d be a smart move for the government to start monitoring activity on certain individuals in order to foil their plans. ISIS uses social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to spread their propaganda and to recruit individuals. The government should also start monitoring online chat rooms and instant messaging platforms, since those platforms are often used to “privately” discuss terrorist activities and to plan their next move/attack on the public.
    There are also “lone-wolf” types on attackers, so they are not as easy to find on social media. The government could have an algorithm that can shift through different keywords and tag those individuals and evaluate if they are a threat or not. But, these lone attackers won’t be part of groups or organizations, so their online footprints are drastically smaller. However, it is possible to track and monitor these individuals with a little more work, since most of these lone attackers have posted on their personal social media accounts about terrorism or terrorist acts, which could pop up as a red flag on the government’s algorithm search.
    As long as it’s national security related, then the government should be data collecting in order to keep our nation safe. There is a fine line between data collection and privacy invasion; we need to make sure the data collection are for ethical reasons.

  3. Connor chose a great article for his blog post, and sadly, one that is very relevant. It is all too common that we hear about mass shootings and terrorist attacks on the news. As a society we cannot accept this as the norm, there must be a way to fight back against these tragedies. I believe that our government should adopt the same tactics that the Israeli government is using to combat attacks on their home soil. It is not an option to give up, so if using social media can help the cause and keep everyone safer and able to sleep peacefully at night without the fear of an attack on our home soil, then this is something the United States should adopt as well.

    It is no secret that ISIS and other terrorist organizations use social media to recruit others to join their cause. They post videos on YouTube and other platforms to help their message reach as many people as possible. Just as terrorist groups use social media, the United States should be using this technology against them. Connor explains that, “Lappin describes how Israeli intelligence analysts are using advanced algorithms to sift through troves of social media interaction to identify and thwart lone wolf plots”. The United States should follow suit and do the same. It is like the saying goes “Fight fire with fire” this is exactly what should be done. If intelligence agencies are able to extract useful data from social media to anticipate an attack, they can then intercept what is plotted to happen and in turn keep the public safe.

    Connor ends his article review by bringing up the obvious question of the ethics this technology takes into question. While there is certainly a line of privacy rights, I feel the national safety of the citizens of the United States must take precedent over that. I believe almost all other American’s would agree with me in that the safety of ourselves and those around us is far more important than worrying about people on the task force knowing a little too much about you via social media. If someone truly doesn’t have anything to hide, I believe they would agree with me and side on this issue just as I do.

    Additionally, I feel money should not be taken into consideration when implementing a task force to police social media in order to try and intercept terrorist plots. There is no price cap when it comes to the safety of the American people. If the United States needs to cut down on spending or borrow a little more from other countries in order to get this system up and running that is what should be done.

  4. In the today’s society, we are more dependent on technology now than ever before. In fact we are so dependent on technology that if it were suddenly wiped out it would be a similar circumstance to the dark ages. People have adapted so much to technology that the dependency is quite remarkable. Some people revolve their whole lives around technology such as phones, computers and even social media. Most businesses rely on technology on a day-to-day basis to be able to operate effectively and control data and operations. If someone were to disrupt the environment that society has created people would be in a panic. I believe that in the current environment big data analytics are necessary in order to preserve the current way of life. Without them people would be susceptible to foreign threats that seek to disrupt this way of life. In my opinion I do not care that the government has the ability to see and obtain everyone’s personal data in order to vet these threats. Without them being involved, we as a society would be susceptible. They are the first line of defense to protect against such cyber terrorists. It also does not bother me that companies sell personal data to other companies. If I am using their site and their technology they have the right to my data because it is no longer private. The only way to not have your data shared publically is to not use technology. In todays world that would be quite difficult for most people to do. I believe that our data is a small price to pay for our protection from threats that have the potential to inflict more damage than good. Overall this is a nice article as it relates more to society than people realize and what it entails to ensure security and protect our way of life.

  5. Connor has identified the key dichotomy in the applications of data mining; individuals are accepting of being "tracked", monitored, analyzed, and recorded when the benefits of such activities are readily apparent and personal (recommended films and series on Netflix), but these same individuals become hostile and uncomfortable with the government tracking them (and everyone else) out of the legitimate concern of our Nation's safety.

    To some degree, this discomfort with government surveillance is attributed to the fact that people nowadays--for one reason or another-- question the role of government and those who serve in it. It's understandable, I suppose, though I'd argue that the sustained safety of our country trumps (no pun-intended) the personal opinions of a select group.

    If private-sector firms can utilize data and technology to their benefit, then why should the government be banned from using those same means to protect the country? Moreover, private-sector firms can sell our information to other firms (some of which we might not want to have access to our activity and information), but people are less concerned over this than they are government surveillance and data analysis.

    I've concluded that no matter what activity i'm engaged in in today's world, I'm usually being tracked or analyzed (since most of my activities take place by virtue of some Internet-connected means). Others should come to that same conclusion; if you've got nothing to hide, then there exists no reason to be concerned.

    No concern is greater than the going concern and prosperity of The State, and if I am comfortable with companies like Facebook and Nordstrom using my data to make their means (thus, I am nothing but a proverbial tool), I should undoubtedly be accepting of the government monitoring my activity. New-age warfare requires new-age defense.

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  7. Connor presents some interesting insights on whether if countries like the United States and other Western Nations should use the same tactic as Israel. This tactic Connor discusses that intelligence analysts carefully decrypt social media interactions by analyzing algorithms. Of course, we do need more government intervention in these scenarios, but I would like to point out the costs of using the methods implemented by the Israeli government. There are boundaries when firms and people cross the line and misuse information, but there’s more to that. If Western countries were to implement a system, where analysts need to take the time to analyze the data carefully and decide whether if there will be a lone wolf attack. In other words, it is time consuming for an agency to do this.
    In addition, Yaakov Lappin points out that these agendas would require a larger budget to have a domestic and international intelligence operations. They will have to hire more personnel as well as screen them in order to ensure whoever is performing these tasks will not share information with other parties, like ISIS. Ultimately, I completely agree with Connor that we do need to allocate more of our effort in monitoring and analyzing algorithms to prevent lone wolf attacks. Moreover, many private firms can collect our information and analyze data, so I don’t see why our government won’t be allowed to do this. It is our country’s duty to serve and protect our well-being, even if it means to monitor our interactions online.
    Moreover, it is more difficult to uncover groups, who have little to no affiliation with organizations, like ISIS. These groups are known as “unknown unknowns”. So what’s an “unknown unknown”? Take a glance at the Boston bombings that occurred a few years ago. Without a glance, the Tsarnaev brothers managed to gather equipment as well as techniques to use to cause mayhem during the Boston Marathon. The article that I have found, SAS, carefully explains we can further in combatting and prevent these unaffiliated attacks to preserve safety for not only for our country but for others as well. How then? Governments would have to use a data stick in that it tracks data footprints, which are virtually left by anyone who uses the internet (banking transactions, online shopping, social media). We would then use advanced analytics to detect if there are any abnormal and disturbing behaviors. The cons of implementing such a method would be the risk of following the wrong lead.



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