Big Data and the Terrorist Threats

The absence of application of perspective technologies by terrorists owing to inaccessibility or an insufficient level of their development is not a reason to self-complacency. Inaccessibility of any weapon has a temporal and passing character, as well as a level of development of technologies insufficient for practical application. Advancing strategy in use of perspective technologies to counteract terrorism is urgently in need. It means:

  • The system evaluation of possibilities of use of perspective technologies by terrorist organisations and in antiterrorist activities;
  • Establishing a network of experts from different spheres of knowledge, capable to provide such evaluation;
  • Acceptance of control measures over working out and use of perspective technologies, etc.

The predictive analytics based on Big Data becomes one of the effective tools in influence campaigns. The spectrum of positive opportunities here is rather wide: more and more exact prediction of natural cataclysms, public disorders, negative processes in economy etc. With Big Data we can predict now not only processes but more and more concrete events. For example, the Early Model Based Event Recognition using Surrogates (EMBERS) is an anticipatory intelligence system for forecasting socially significant population-level events, such as civil unrest incidents, disease outbreaks, and election outcomes, on the basis of publicly available data. EMBERS is supported by the Intelligence Advanced Research Project Activity (IARPA) Open Source Indicators (OSI) program and showed good results in predicting civil unrest incidents in Brazil and Venezuela (Doyle A. and others. Forecasting significant societal events using the EMBERS streaming predicative analytics system // Big Data. 2014. № 4). The leaders in predictive analytics can develop greatly not only their civil but  military capabilities as well. Seems it is true for both state and non-state actors.

It is possible to expect  new  opportunities  for  latent influence on the terrorist organisations for the purpose of their gradual decline or provoking conflicts between them up to mutual liquidation on the basis of predictive analytics. At the same time it is necessary full comprehension that such ‘prognostic weapons’ in hands of a reactionary state becomes even more dangerous means of psychological warfare than if it was used by the terrorist organisation.

NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker considers that “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life” and during debates at Johns Hopkins University General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, called Baker’s comment “absolutely correct,” asserting, “We kill people based on metadata.” (Cole D. ‘We Kill People Based on Metadata’). The same  we can hear  from the former head of the Israel Security Agency’s IT unit, Ronen Horowitz: “I am telling you with certainty that quite a few dead terrorists are looking at us from the sky owing to Big Data capabilities”, he explained in his first interview since leaving his intelligence agency (Big Data Will Effectively Fight Terrorism In The World).

Of course it is a big question of not losing the control from the civil society over the decision making of such more and more sophisticated and autonomous Big Data programmes.

The BRICS countries develop their programmes in the field of Big Data and predictive analytics, examining the challenges coming from ‘prognostic weapons’, being used by state and not state actors.

In 2016 Alibaba Group starts a cloud platform of Big  Data with intention to promote an all-around development and availability of new technologies across all China. With serious terrorist challenges, the Russian government has already partnered with local security firms like Kaspersky to better understand how it can leverage its Big Data to catch criminals.

The Center of Research of Legitimacy and the Political Protest in Moscow started in 2015 the program which has received the name « Laplace’s demon». The system monitors and analyzes the activity of extremist groups, and also offers decisions on revealing in networks of recruiters of terrorists.

“Laplace’s demon” conducts round-the-clock monitoring of social networks “VKontacte”(“In Contact”), Facebook, Twitter, “LiveJournal”, indicating  distributors of an extremist content and its most influential users. According to the data available on the web site of  the Center of Research of Legitimacy and the Political Protest automated search of an extremist content gives out on demand of an analyst the list of accounts extending the forbidden publications, audio and a video-content, eliminating users from all other cities, except what the analytics is interested in. Search results stand out in the form of the table containing the information on the owner of an account with forbidden video materials, its contact information and personal photos.

To start search of extremist publications in the city one can interested in is enough to enter into options of the program. The system will carry out data mining and filter results on variety of criteria, beginning from age and a place of study of users and finishing by the information on quantity of extremist publications in one account. The cluster analysis helps to establish the general parameters of national and confessional relations in separately taken region and to fix points of growth of hatred and enmity on the basis of ties with this or that religion or a nationality. The program is capable to find potential addressees of propagation by ISIS and other forbidden organisations.

 Russian information system « Laplace’s demon»

Now researchers and programmers are occupied by creation of a psychological portrait of the terrorist recruiter to bring it in algorithm of the “Laplace’s demon” that will essentially facilitate work of special services. In this project join their efforts the researchers of religion and specialists in Arab studies. How all that works? The program will search on pages in social networks the deformed quotations from the Koran, the citation on Arabian, comments and posts of the doubtful maintenance and so on. Also IT experts will calculate IP-addresses and to establish a site of potentially dangerous users (The Russian Information System    “Laplace’s demon” ) . So the more sophisticated will be technologies based on Big Data, the more important will be to:  1) minimize the threats of access for terrorists to these new technologies; 2)  search in advance for methods  to counteract  terrorists which have  even some limited access to Big Data tools; 3)  estimate and control the risks of  usage of Big Data in the framework and interests of the civil society.


Evgeny N. Pashentsev. Doctor in History, Leading Researcher at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  of  the Russian Federation, director of the International Centre for Social and Political Studies and Consulting (ICSPSC). Professor at the Chair of Philosophy of Language  and Communication in Lomonosov Moscow State University. Author or editor of 33 books and more than 100 academic articles. Member of the Advisory Board of Comunicar (Spain) and the Editorial Board of the Journal of Political Marketing (United States of America).