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Computer Models Find Patterns In Asymmetric Threats

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the pseudo-random-nutcase-generator dept.

The Military 214

The Narrative Fallacy brings us a story about a project by University of Alabama researchers to develop a database capable of anticipating targets for future guerrilla attacks. Quoting Space War: "Adversaries the US currently faces in Iraq rely on surprise and apparent randomness to compensate for their lack of organization, technology, and firepower. 'One way to combat these attacks is to identify trends in the attackers' methods, then use those trends to predict their future actions,' said UA-Huntsville researcher Wes Colley. 'Some trends from these attacks show important day-to-day correlations. If we can draw inferences from those correlations, then we may be able to save lives by heightening awareness of possible events or changing the allocation of our security assets to provide more protection.' Researchers reviewed the behavior signatures of terrorists on 12,000 attacks between 2003 and mid-2007 to calculate relative probabilities of future attacks on various target types."

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Terrible idea (0)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428690)

Wow, is it just me or does this just sound like a total waste of money? The attacks are surprises and random, how are they going to try to extrapolate patterns with computers? Why not just hire a psychologist?

Re:Terrible idea (4, Informative)

caffeinemessiah (918089) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428770)

The attacks are surprises and random, how are they going to try to extrapolate patterns with computers?

Even better -- if you look in television static long enough, you are going to find a pattern. Either they've found some hidden predictor of attacks, or maybe someone needs a course in basic Ramsey theory [wikipedia.org] , which deals with conditions under which order (patterns) must occur even in random noise.

Consider this example (*not* meant as an analogy for the discrete math nazis): you have an infinite sequence of completely random letters over the alphabet. What is the probability of finding "abc" repeated 15 times with a gap of exactly 10 letters between successive repeats? If the stream is indeed completely random, then the probability is non-zero and you will EVENTUALLY (probably) see the "pattern".

Re:Terrible idea (3, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428940)

Either they've found some hidden predictor of attacks, or maybe someone needs a course in basic Ramsey theory [wikipedia.org], which deals with conditions under which order (patterns) must occur even in random noise.

Sure, that's why you have test sets to determine if the models the system learns from the data are useful or not. I think it's safe to assume that the scientists working on this are familiar with the basics of learning theory and modeling.

Re:Terrible idea (1)

SeePage87 (923251) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429338)

I think it's safe to assume that the scientists working on this are familiar with the basics of learning theory and modeling.
Why, they're from the University of Alabama.

Re:Terrible idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22429934)

that's why you have test sets to determine if the models the system

Yeah, we've got dozens of terrorist attacks every day to check their model against!

Re:Terrible idea (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22430024)

Yeah, we've got dozens of terrorist attacks every day to check their model against!
Maybe not quite dozens, but well over 1,000 a year. [thereligionofpeace.com]

Damn near all of them committed by Muslims.

Hey, there's one non-random factor!

Re:Terrible idea (1)

caffeinemessiah (918089) | more than 6 years ago | (#22430004)

Sure, that's why you have test sets to determine if the models the system learns from the data are useful or not. I think it's safe to assume that the scientists working on this are familiar with the basics of learning theory and modeling.

Blindly applying learning theory to collected data often leads to models that are apparently highly predictive on your test/validation sets, but are absolute garbage in unseen scenarios. You're assuming that by learning a "model" that the distribution of data remains the same even when this system goes into deployment. While that might be nice for some kinds of data, how could you even begin justifying this for *terrorist attacks*??

Re:Terrible idea (4, Insightful)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428944)

But the terrorists have to conform to reality, there are conditions that must be met for an attack to be carried out. Resources and weaponry must be aquired transferred or built. Willing persons must be in the area or transported there. The application of these resources, which are valuable even if they are a disposable one-shot sort deal often, so we know they will be trying to maximize effect in minimizing risk. There may be vastly more targets than terrorists, but that does not mean that every target could be targeted at any one time. If anything, the research should be a useful tool in helping predict not randomized attacks, but rather supplies, logistics, idelogical supports; the true treasures of information warfare.

Re:Terrible idea (4, Insightful)

flymolo (28723) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429040)

And some targets are preferable to others. So empty warehouse X isn't as interesting as a shopping mall. So the randomness must fall with certain ranges of targets that will cause terror. Pattern analysis may help figure out what targets they pick randomly from based upon the above mentioned logistic, supply and idealogical concerns.

Re:Terrible idea (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429176)

"Who defends everything, defends nothing." - Frederick The Great

Re:Terrible idea (3, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429326)

Really, though, you think they're studying shopping mall attacks? They studied "12,000 terrorist attacks". Bet you didn't know there had been 12,000 terrorist attacks in Iraq in the past four years, did you, let alone 12,000 well documented enough to study? Assuming an average of 20 people killed per attack, that'd mean ~250k people had been killed in well-documented terrorist attacks without the media catching on to the overwhelming majority of it. With that many people being killed by terrorists, who needs insurgents?

Here's a wild notion: they're doing what the US government usually does and calling any insurgent attack a "terrorist attack". Which is why this research is being carried out for the DoD instead of the Department of Homeland Security.

Re:Terrible idea (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429454)

No one said anything about limiting the scope of study to iraq. I agree with you that the net drawn across violent attacks around the word that labels them as "terrorist" is a little broad, but that does not mean that there is no value to study of it. And so what if we just find a means to make aggregate guesses about 'insurgent' attacks? Isn't that a victory in itself? Doesn't that mean that the study is worthwhile? They aren't purporting to predict single events from raw data, they are suggesting that we can make general statements about risk using decent models of the actors involved.

Re:Terrible idea (1)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429460)

Well, not to get bogged down in semantics, but I tend to categorize based on goals rather than more specific tactical nuances. Thus, often it comes out, sometimes in a way against me, a bit generalized. I associate insurgents, whom have the goal of demoralizing and terrorizing troops (as in deadly harrasment,) with terrorist, despite the wider range of targets an insurgent will chose (ie. ambushing supply convoys, raiding ammo dumps, rather than just civilian mayhem.) But in general what the gp is saying make sense. Using the patterns to help determine what targets are more susceptible. Maybe not warehouse versus mall, but instead determing some level activty, worth, etc that makes a target appear more worthy of attack.

Re:Terrible idea (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429638)

But the terrorists have to conform to reality, there are conditions that must be met for an attack to be carried out. Resources and weaponry must be aquired transferred or built. Willing persons must be in the area or transported there
But didn't you read the first sentance of TFA?

"Adversaries the U.S. currently faces in Iraq rely on surprise and apparent randomness to compensate for their lack of organization, technology and firepower."

The terrorists lack organization, so they obviously can't arrange all the logistics you're attributing to them.[/sarcasm]
I seriously wonder what these UA researchers define as "organization."

Re:Terrible idea (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429818)

That's why the concept of statistical significance exists.

The hypothisis is that terrorist attacks are NOT highly correlated (ie: they are in fact 'random surprises'). If this is true then you expect to find what is true for the pattern 'abc' is also true for every other three letter pattern. If it is not then the pattern 'abc' is significant.

Significance does not mean certain, nor does it mean the correct conclusion is drawn, but it can rule out the 'random surprise' theory.

Re:Terrible idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22428884)

It's just you. No, I kid there are probably many others that think the actions of the insurgents are truly random.

Given that they suffer from the same weakness we all do - they are human - I'd guess that their attacks are not without predictive factors.

Is is waste of money? If the research shows that there are trends the military can exploit then no. If it shows that there are absolutely no trends to be found then no again since we can then give up and go home.

Seriously though, am I the only one who thinks that we are on the cusp of a breakthrough - the ability of traditionally organized mechanized armed forces to effectively engage guerilla tactics?

Re:Terrible idea (1)

Arcane_Rhino (769339) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429396)

Seriously though, am I the only one who thinks that we are on the cusp of a breakthrough - the ability of traditionally organized mechanized armed forces to effectively engage guerilla tactics?

Wish I had mod points, and you weren't an AC. If you are correct, 2008 (or whatever year this break-through occurs) should be the year that historians look back to when considering the moment/era that the monumental geo-political shift occurred wherein NO small group could ever again hope to stand up to a superpower. The possible repercussions, for good or ill, are staggering to consider.

Re:Terrible idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22428922)

The attacks might not be random, but more likely then not, once a pattern is found and exploited, these 'terrorists' will move to new tactics, a new pattern. There is a reason why they attack the way they do, and projects like these only prove one thing: those who fund these projects just don't have a clue, they are hoping throwing money at something will solve it, rather then trying to actually deal with the situation in a intelligent way.

Re:Terrible idea (2, Interesting)

readin (838620) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428956)

Just how easy is it to think of something truly random? Ask 100 people to pick a random number between 1 and 10 and you will see a pattern. It won't be random because certain numbers will be preferred. Try asking the person to repeatedly pick a random number between 1 and 10 and they won't be able to do it. Throw in other factors they need to consider and being random gets really hard. By using computer pattern matching we have a shot at discovering patterns they don't even know they have, and perhaps patterns psychologists aren't aware of either. The psychologist will make assumptions, and those assumptions might be wrong or limiting. The computer can think outside the human box. It might just find the pattern without being hampered by questions about why the pattern is there.

Because.... (2, Funny)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428972)

Using computers sounds far more scientific than reading tea leaves.

Re:Because.... (3, Interesting)

timeOday (582209) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429368)

Before you rush to judgement, I suggest you play a few rounds of rock, paper, scissors [essentially.net] . There's nothing crazy about spending money trying to find patterns in the enemy's behavior, even if he's intentionally trying to be random... that's the entire field of cryptology!

Re:Because.... (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429418)

PS, it's also what stock investors do. Of course in this case the "enemy" isn't actively trying to act randomly, but your competition is trying to find and exploit (and thus dissipate) patterns, just as you are. Thus the market as a whole amounts to a game where future returns are as random as your competition can make them.

As posted below.... (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429494)

Yup, we all know that people will tend to be predictable when they think they are being random. Ask a group of people to think of a random number and you'll see a skew towards 7. But it is easy to be far more random than that. Play rock paper scissors using a dice and you'll get 50%.

All you need to do is carry a coin etc around and flip it every now and then to randomise behavior. Good spies did this. So did good submarine commanders etc.

Heads we attack this week, tails we don't. Heads we turn at the next corner, tails we don't. Heads we turn left, tails we turn right etc etc. Heads we fly United, tails Continental.

FBI can try make a patern of that but all they'll do is burn CPU cycles

Re:Terrible idea (2, Informative)

EricTheMad (603880) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428984)

The attacks are surprises and random, how are they going to try to extrapolate patterns with computers?
The article doesn't refer to the attacks as random, but says that they rely on "apparent randomness". Nothing humans do is ever truly random, there are always patterns. They aren't trying to predict when and where and attack will happen, only what target are more likely to be hit. From the article:

For instance, if there were an attack on a government target, that somewhat increased the chance of an attack on a police target over the next several days. Armed with this knowledge, commanders could allocate greater than usual resources to protect police assets more carefully for several days after an attack on a government target.

Re:Terrible idea (2, Insightful)

TurinPT (1226568) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429008)

Human behavior is not entirely random, certain assumptions can be made.
For example, when choosing random locations on a map, people tend to scatter the locations across it, leaving a somewhat similar distance between each one of them.
Real randomness creates clusters on the map, causing some of the chosen locations to end up next to each other.

On the other hand, maybe I've just been watching too much "numb3rs"...

Re:Terrible idea (2, Insightful)

Shihar (153932) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429042)

You miss the point of the program. The types of attacks is constantly shifting. Where it shifts to might be unpredictable, but that doesn't mean that you can't catch the shift as it happens. So, imagine all of a sudden you get a few small, but successful attacks on Shiite elementary schools in a certain providence. Your correlation notices that there have been a few attacks, it notes that the attacks 'success' matches what counts as 'success' (high body count, media exposure, low losses, political change, increased sectarian strife, etc.) from previous shifts in targets, and alerts you to expect more attacks on school in that providence, and warns that in a months time you might be facing such attacks in other providences.

On the other hand, imagine that there are a few attacks on school buses. You might be tempted to draw the same conclusion as the school attacks. However, the bus attacks don't meet the pattern. They result in "failure", whatever that might be (high causalities on attackers, minimal media coverage, low body count, etc). The program says not to pour all your resources into fighting this new threat as it is unlikely that the attacks will continue.

I am not saying whether or not such a program is going to work, but the principle is sound. Some types of events lead to other types of events. You might not be predicting what happens in a year, but you might catch a trend before it spread across the entire nation.

Re:Terrible idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22429342)

Wow, is it just me or does this just sound like a total waste of money? The attacks are surprises and random, how are they going to try to extrapolate patterns with computers? Why not just hire a psychologist?
And how do YOU know they're truly random?

First, considering these attacks all are targeted at SOMETHING, presumably SOMETHING of value, their location CAN'T be random.

Geez, and that's just off the top of my head.

Who mods this crap up?

Now, Brian (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429536)

The correct question is not "Why use computers"", or "Why not just hire a psychologist?". This is a government funding exercise. The correct answer is, "Why not do both?". We can frivolously blow twice the cash on white-collar welfare if we refuse to limit ourselves. Remember: the proper boolean operator is AND, not OR.
Now, Brian: proceed to your journal, write a post saying "AND, not OR" 500 times, and quit wasting valuable /. time with these half-measures.

You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (1)

milsoRgen (1016505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428698)

So predict the unpredictable?

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (1)

nlitement (1098451) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428760)

In case you didn't read the summary, it's the University of Alabama. :)

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (2, Informative)

bondsbw (888959) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429354)

In case you didn't read the article, it's the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

By the way... both UA and UAH are national leaders in homeland security and law enforcement technology research. Add UAB, with its biomedical research and other engineering programs, and Alabama universities are home to some of the best engineering and technology research in the nation.

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (2, Informative)

johndiii (229824) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429560)

Not to mention the fact that the Marshall Space Flight Center is in Huntsville. That Saturn V thing? No way it could have actually reached space, it was designed in Alabama.

But this is Slashdot; it's useless to try rebut the groupthink (read: prejudice) with facts.

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (2, Insightful)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428890)

So predict the unpredictable?

Or more precisely, predict the mostly-unpredictable. Just about any activity involving humans, even if it seems utterly random at first glance, will have underlying patterns which emerge once one analyzes the data.

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (3, Funny)

milsoRgen (1016505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428916)

Yeah but a 6th month study done in Alabama ain't going to give you anything more than a good soldier is going to be able to tell you. Or maybe a good spreed sheet, this looks like a glorified Office macro to me.

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429026)

Yeah but a 6th month study done in Alabama ain't going to give you anything more than a good soldier is going to be able to tell you

That remains to be seen. Are you suggesting that analyzing attack data is a bad idea?

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (1)

milsoRgen (1016505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429216)

That remains to be seen. Are you suggesting that analyzing attack data is a bad idea?
Not in a generic sense no, but the application of such data is invariably going to be used in our current situation in Iraq.
Are you suggesting that throwing more money into our current situation is a good idea?

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (1)

bondsbw (888959) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429426)

Are you suggesting that throwing more money into our current situation is a good idea?

I bet you abide by the assumption that two wrongs make a right. You might not agree with the fact that we're in Iraq, or with the reasons we went to war, but what makes you think it's a good idea to leave our military stranded there without the technology to win it?

And don't give me any of this "we can just pull out" crap. You know that's not going to happen... we will stay there, and we will either starve our troops of the data and advancements to get it done, or we will find a way to settle it on our terms.

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (1)

milsoRgen (1016505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429492)

And don't give me any of this "we can just pull out" crap.
Well if you don't want any of that crap from me, I don't want any of your "win it" crap. There is nothing to win, there is no cohesive and organized central force in which to engage in battle.

And I agree, we will be over there for a long time, just because there's so much money to be made for powerful and influential people.

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (1)

bondsbw (888959) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429246)

Yeah but a 6th month study done in Alabama....

<sarcasm>Wow... who thought there would be an ignorant post on Slashdot?</sarcasm>

Of course, I shouldn't be surprised. Most people don't realize that Alabama universities are on the leading edge of homeland security and law enforcement research. They tend not to be interested in anything coming out of the state that doesn't deal with football or some guy in a rural town that got caught making out with his sister.

You might want to research some of the many lesser-known things about Alabama... oh, like say, NASA... or the automobile manufacturing industry that has recently become a national leader. Or, say, our economy, which has kept strong even as the rest of the nation is falling into recession.

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (2, Insightful)

milsoRgen (1016505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429320)

Most people don't realize that Alabama universities are on the leading edge of homeland security and law enforcement research
And that is supposed to increase my respect for Alabama? Sounds like a a good place for the Gestapo [wikipedia.org] headquarters.

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429490)

godwin's law.

Re:You're Tax Dollars At Work Frylock... (1)

smellotron (1039250) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429516)

Just about any activity involving humans, even if it seems utterly random at first glance, will have underlying patterns which emerge once one analyzes the data.

Yeah, that's why trading and investing are solved problems, and no one goes bankrupt by following the advice of market experts. Just because something may be shown to have patterns doesn't mean that we actually have any meaningful knowledge about it. Check out Fooled By Randomness [wikipedia.org] for a better explanation than I can provide.

I think it's useful and interesting to research social statistics like this, but they should all be taken with a very large grain of salt.

Like my mutual fund... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22428722)

...past performance is no guarantee of future performance.

A step up. (3, Insightful)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428732)

As lame as it sounds, it would be a step up from the current method my gov't(US) uses: treat everybody like a criminal.

A step down more like (4, Interesting)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428886)

The computer model throws a double six as you walk past the screening point. You get selected for The Glove Of Fun.

Computer models are only as good as their data: Garbage In, Gospel Out. That's a problem with climate modelling. The climatologists keep tweaking the models until they get what they expect and are then smug because the models "prove" their predictions.

If terrorist activity is truely random, then this thing does not stand a chance. However, terrorists, like most people, likely follow some sort of pattern and if the signature "tell tale signs" can really be detected then perhaps attacks etc can be predicted.

Re:A step down more like (1)

complete loony (663508) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429580)

Until the terrorists start reading the predictions and deliberately doing something else.

Re:A step down more like (3, Interesting)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429594)

People like you freak me out. What do you think science is? How, magically, does meteorology differ from Physics? Do we hold the same opinions about black holes, dark matter and the big bang as we used to? Hell, the term "big bang" was originally pejorative--scientists didn't fit that possiblity into their models. The data changed and so that forced a change in theory. It's how fucking science works. For fuck's sake.

Climate science is no different. What is different is that there are consequences for our actions on earth that matter depending on the outcome of the model. Because there are huge stakes involved, people tend to forms groups at the poles of opinion. You have companies with large stakes in suggesting that climate change is not man made paying for climate research by scientists who feel similarly. You have news organizations and political organizations (who know shit about science) taking the barest of abstracts from a study and runnign with it. You have sceince dumbed down by both sides in order to explain it to voters and policymakers. this sort of thing doesn't happen that much in some branches of science.

Evolutionary biology, genetics, labor economics, sociology, antropology. Those are a short list of disciplines whose conclusions draw people into camps. They also happen to be the same disciplines (not an exclusive list) that people accuse of unscientific practice (and then in doing so, describe the scientific method perfectly, as you have done). That those disciplines and only those disciplines would suffer from a failure to understand the scientific model alone while scores of other disciplines would execute that model perfectly strains credulity.

Re:A step up. (1)

Das Modell (969371) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428906)

From what I've read, virtually anyone in Iraq is a potential terrorist. The soldiers have no idea who's friendly and who's going to explore or stab them in the back. Even many allies have been revealed to be terrorist infiltrators.

Re:A step up. (2, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429106)

you're assuming that the current administration doesn't realize current protocols do nothing. It's security theatre not security. Had they actually wanted to prevent the kind of threats they claim are the most serious, they'd do well by scraping the police state they've set up and get out of Iraq. Here's a hint: you don't need a supercomputer with advanced algorithms to figure out that you can't lessen terrorism by invading countries for little or no reason, blowing up all their infrastructure and torturing people.

game theory (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22428750)

It's all part of game theory. If your enemy doesn't randomize their tactics, then you can take advantage of any statistical bias or pattern. Soon anyone buying a geiger counter, thermal noise diode, or even a lava lamp, will be a candidate for the terrorist watch list.

Or get change (4, Interesting)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428924)

Sir, that quarter you have in your pocket is a ramdom number generating device. Spread 'em.

Supposedly one of the better spies (I forget which) always carried a coin in his pocket that he'd flip every few minutes to make random decisions (get to a street corner: turn or go straight? Flip).

Re:Or get change (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22429986)

Coin flips are not random... I once saw a stats professor flip 10 heads in a row. He had practiced.

Jack.

Re:game theory (3, Insightful)

psykocrime (61037) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429132)

Right, and of course the next question is "what's to stop the terrorists from doing the same analysis, and the making it a point to do something other than
what the model predicts?" Now that it's public knowledge that we are using this kind of analysis, wouldn't it be useless?

Re:game theory (2, Insightful)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429784)

Because terrorists are stupid. That's the sad, sad, conclusion we have to reach. Some methods of communication and control are relatively sophisticated, but by and large, people get caught through old fashioned police work. We have trumped up this threat like we were fighting UNCLE. The administration doesn't want the fact that we easvsdrop leaked because the terrorists will adapt and conquer that threat. They don't want specific torture methods revealed because they will train to be resilient to them (tell me how you train to not crack when someone pulls your fingernails out). they can't tell us why the liquid ban is still in effect because Abdul MacGyver will fashion a fancy bomb based on a press release.

There are situations where official silence is a good thing. "Dark Sun", the history of the hydrogen bomb, shows a good example of how the KGB mined a public report about nuclear energy before and after it was expurgated to see which important elements had been changed. They discovered one sentence had been deleted about fission product 'poisoning' of nuclear piles. From this one sentence they probably saved weeks to months of theoretical and practical work.

we are not in that situation. We can expect sophistication from our enemies--police and DA's dealing with mafia and gang lords in jail can tell you the elaborate and extensive measures taken by the gangs to ensure that control continued uninhibited through prison walls. What we should not expect is omnipotence. If we do that, they have won (and they practically have). We cannot expect them to reverse engineer every public model and therefore make public no models. We cannot expect them to exploit basic human rights needs and therefore keep those from them. We cannot expect them to be so sophisticated as to get through every net available and therefore treat every bottle of gatorade as a threat to national security. We have to establish competent policing, both here and abroad. We have to treat threats honestly and responsibly. We have to shun the notion that governmental secrecy is a necessary policy route.

A Deadly Lottery (4, Funny)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428764)

Shortly after the study began however, the patterns began to match-up to something surprisingly familiar. We have determined that the terrorists are using Windows' random number generator [slashdot.org] to pick their targets.

Common Sense at work. (2, Interesting)

nexuspal (720736) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428790)

FTA
"This study considered two aspects of each attack: the target of the attack, and the time of the attack. Using careful statistical techniques, the team identified correlations between attacks on various target types as a function of time. For instance, if there were an attack on a government target, that somewhat increased the chance of an attack on a police target over the next several days."

Sounds pretty strait forward. If you have a brazen attack against, say, a base, you can expect a higher risk of attacks on other assets. Isn't that why after the 911 attacks there were Combat Air Patrol flights over every major city for days. This is just common sense...

Re:Common Sense at work. (2, Funny)

milsoRgen (1016505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428846)

Yeah from reading the article it seemed like pretty basic stuff they were correlating. Like, it's a clear day: increased risk of sniper attacks. Or it's night: increased risk of people sneaking around.

Re:Common Sense at work. (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428982)

If anything, this seems like a way to computationally extract and quantify such "common sense" assumptions, and perhaps even see if old "common sense" ideas are actually not supported by the data (as happens rather often). As an added bonus, new "common sense" tactics might emerge.

Of course, there's also a chance that their work will end up not being useful. That's why it's called research.

Re:Common Sense at work. (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429184)

SOmetimes it is common sense. I haven't read the underlying study, but my thought is that they are putting a little too much faith in covariance. We might argue that large attacks spur copycat attacks and that those attacks occur on similar, but not identical targets. It might be a luddite perspective to dismiss this study as resulting in the same conclusions that ordinary police work would. I don't think this is the case. I also don't feel that this is the results of "patterns everywhere". It seems childish to me to dismiss works like this as pattern seeking out of randomness--it's not like attacks or crimes are statistically rendom, in the aggegate. They aren't like decomposition of radioactive isotopes. There are trends and predictions that can be made, there are links that can be broken. I would like to turn to the eaxmple of the change in crime statistics that helped PYC reduce its crime rate so dramatically.

Random? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22428802)

They are not random, they are in Iraq. GTFO of Iraq, and attacks stop. Hmmmm... Could of just bought me a coffee and donuts for that one as opposed to putting how many billions dollars on my generations shoulders?

Re:Random? (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429736)

Brilliant! Every time there is a bombing, we'll condemn the entire country and force everyone to move to a different one! When we run out of land, we'll live at the bottom of the sea, grow gills, live in pineapples and wear square pants.

Numb3rs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22428860)

So the writers of "Numb3rs" found someone willing to hire them during the writers' strike?

Capability and Intelligence! (1)

GodOfCode (878337) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428866)

What ever happened to spending more on hiring the best talent around and also spending more on intelligence gathering!

Re:Capability and Intelligence! (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429234)

What ever happened to spending more on hiring the best talent around and also spending more on intelligence gathering!
It cost too much.

The final solution (1)

B3ryllium (571199) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428882)

I have discovered the final solution:

They attack the weak point for massive damage!

Re:The final solution (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429036)

If only, Then we could use that.
No they hit 'random' targets at 'random' times.
Bearing in mind 'random' just means you don't know all the variables and there is no obvious pattern. Or possible no pattern...which oddly enough IS a pattern. Just like there are no non-interesting numbers.

We could create the illusion of a weak link, and then know they're will be an attack. Then we could surprise the enemy to death.

Data Mining Principles Applied, Eigenbehaviors (3, Interesting)

ngr8 (504185) | more than 6 years ago | (#22428898)

Although there are clearly many random elements, http://reality.media.mit.edu/eigenbehaviors.php/ [mit.edu] suggest that the "Circular Error Probable" may be improved, the site reads in part:

Eigenbehaviors allow us to identify the structure inherent in daily human behavior with models that can accurately cluster, analyze and predict multimodal data from individuals and groups. We show that it is possible to accurately model many people's lives with just a few parameters - thus allowing accurate prediction of their future behavior from limited observations of their current behavior - as well as to create a similarity metric between individuals and groups that allows accurate identification of group affiliation and behavioral 'style'.


It isn't whether it is an optimal strategy, but whether these tools improve materially the effectiveness of intelligence. "Discovery" AI/Expert systems were finding new materials processes during the 1980s.

Oh ye of little faith. Still, trust in god but lock your car.

lol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22428948)

touch me in my sexy spot

Basis for correlation (2, Insightful)

caitsith01 (606117) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429018)

I imagine a strong basis for correlation would be "target is a member of armed forces engaged in hostile occupation of foreign country invaded on false pretences for strategic reasons." E.g. America in Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Russia in Afghanistan, Germany in France.

In other words, the best way to reduce these types of attacks is to avoid invading other countries without (at least) the invitation of the citizens. Compare, for example, UN peacekeeping forces in Kosovo who are not subject to constant random attacks precisely because the general populace wanted them there.

America needs to learn to address the underlying disease, not the symptoms. Likewise terrorism: remove the underlying motivation (hint: it's not "terrorists hate freedom") and resolve the problem.

Re:Basis for correlation (1)

Warll (1211492) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429154)

"Germany in France." Speaking of religious extremists fighting for their god, God, Wining, Win, unlawful wars, Law. Godwin's Law....

Isaac Asimov already predicted it... (1)

the_skywise (189793) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429168)

If these models work out I'd say we might be seeing the beginnings of Psycho-history...

Re:Isaac Asimov already predicted it... (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429260)

It's easier to predict a theory that predicts human behaviour than it is to predict human behaviour. Basically, that's the difference between theory and practice :)

another shameful abuse of technology (4, Insightful)

nickhart (1009937) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429170)

The people of Iraq have a right to resist their occupiers by any means necessary. If a government with a century-long history of aggression and crushing democracies were to invade your country, I'm sure you'd agree. That anyone would develop technology to aid the occupiers is shameful. If anything, try to come up with a computer model for ending the war and imprisoning its architects and enablers.

No kidding. (3, Insightful)

FatSean (18753) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429390)

I love the terrorist-fearing pant-loads crying that the terrorists use women and children to fight off the people who have invaded and occupied their country. Do they really think American women and children wouldn't volunteer to help resist the Chinese, if they entered our nation and set up a puppet government?

All I can say about this conflict is that nobody I give a shit about was stupid enough to believe the government's lies and enlist to fight in Iraq. My deepest condolences for those who enlisted pre-2003 to defend their nation...these men and women are being misused.

Re:No kidding. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22429598)

oh but wait, your entire sorry ass nation whipped themselves into a patriotic lather and invaded afganistan and then Iraq.

also whats with all this anti china sentiment recently?

Schrodinger's HumV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22429198)

So if you do the threat analysis and modify your response, that causes the pattern to be disrupted -- kind of like making a measurement in quantum mechanics changes the underlying system.

prior art (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22429220)

Numb3rs [imdb.com]

Save Lives? (2, Insightful)

MrSteveSD (801820) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429228)

If we can draw inferences from those correlations, then we may be able to [b]save lives[/b] by heightening awareness of possible events or changing the allocation of our security assets to provide more protection.


How about saving lives by not using air-strikes in densely populated civilian neighbourhoods? It doesn't take a computer model to tell you that bombing towns and cities is going to kill civilians and create a lot of very angry (and probably armed) people.

Re:Save Lives? (1)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429630)

How about not placing artillery and missile positions in densely populated civilian neighborhoods? That way you don't get bombed.

Re:Save Lives? (3, Insightful)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429694)

How about not placing artillery and missile positions in densely populated civilian neighborhoods? That way you don't get bombed.


Well, unfortunately the guys placing the artillery are not necessarily the ones who live there, and the ones who do live there will get a gun pointed at their family if they ask for it to be moved.

Which is not to say that civilians getting caught in the middle between two warring sides is anything new or novel, but the least we could do is not try to dismiss it by implying they deserve to get killed.

Take the hint (1)

Dada (31909) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429374)

If you have enough data to make statistically significant observations for such a project, it might be time to get the f outta there...

and as soon as US forces react, it's useless (1)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429388)

Researchers reviewed the behavior signatures of terrorists on 12,000 attacks between 2003 and mid-2007 to calculate relative probabilities of future attacks on various target types.

All of which will change now because a)they may know about it because of the news story or b)if it works, US forces will behave differently.

The precalculated probabilities and patterns will be worthless. All it will take is the guerrilla fighters changing how they pick targets.

Sadly, Markets (1)

hey (83763) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429414)

Sadly they have lots of data to work with.
I would predict that the worst attacks occur in crowded markets where there are lots of people.

One and only (2, Insightful)

yuri2001 (972608) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429430)

The only pattern I can really agree on is the one where we see the US spending billions in research against something that a simple change of foreign policy could (still?) avoid.

And BTW, I thought you guys stopped relying too much on spy sats and computers an more on HUMINT?

Recently we discovered that some djihad groups are training 8 years old kids to be suicide bombers, that's were we are, the US wants to stop it? Then think with humanity.

that's flawed - here's better methodology (4, Insightful)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429464)

I have a fool-proof method for completely avoiding any future attacks upon our troops in Iraq. Get the fuck out of Iraq. Stop invading countries for the purpose of lining the pockets of defense contractors and protecting the interests of oil tycoons and central bankers. Predictable idiotic responses to my idea: the terrorists will have won! The terrorists have already won a new recruiting and breeding ground, thanks to gw, cheney and rumsfeld. Iran will take over Iraq: let them have it. they're probably too smart to want the trouble though. there will be civil war and genocide. we already have that, pay more attention. we'll destabilize the middle east. we already did that.

Re:that's flawed - here's better methodology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22429680)

I have a fool-proof method for completely avoiding any future attacks upon our troops in Iraq.
Added for emphasis. Literally!

Re:that's flawed - here's better methodology (2, Insightful)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429772)

I have a fool-proof method for completely avoiding any future attacks upon our troops in Iraq. Get the fuck out of Iraq.


Didn't you hear President Bush explain how they'd follow us home if we left Iraq? There's only one guy causing all this conflict. If he's there, he can't be here. But if he doesn't need to be there, he can easily move his family here and cause all sorts of trouble.

Al Qaeda is Platinum on American Airlines, he actually is a million miler from way back, which means free upgrades for life, so he doesn't mind a long-haul flight! He has plenty of Starwood points to come over here, don't make him cash those in when he was planning on surprising his wives with a trip to the Bahamas next Spring!

Absolutely! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22429956)

The ENTIRE THING was preventable by not invading a sovereign nation and killing a messload of innocent civilians in the name of... what exactly was it again? I seem to have forgotten.

You reap what you sew. What we have sewn is to made a significant fraction of the world's population hate us, and our former friends distance themselves as we become the militarily aggressive nation that everyone fears. We've become the Germany of 1938, the Japan of 1936. In 2008, it's America. Small wonder the local population is giving their lives to drive an aggressive foreign power out of their homeland.

I don't get it (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429472)

From TFA:

One way to combat these attacks is to identify trends in the attackers' methods, then use those trends to predict their future actions

The whole problem with guerilla tactics is that we don't know who to watch. If we could identify the attackers, don't waste time studying them. Just take them out.

OTOH, if this is an exercise in correlating past attackers behavior with patterns in the general population, it would require surveillance of that population the likes of which we are barely beginning to see.

If any anomalous behavior might get you labeled as a possible terrorist, you'd better think twice about switching from Windows to Linux.

How to guarantee you are fighting the last war (1)

rlglende (70123) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429526)


Anti-terrorism efforts are always a bet against human ingenuity.

This is a perfect way of preventing any ingenuity on your own side, not that there is much of that in any gov effort.

Lew

Wrong strategy (1)

capn_nemo (667943) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429590)

First, if they're using randomness to generate attacks, it's obviously impossible to predict. Yes, yes, small patterns may emerge, but it seems like a ridiculous idea to try and predict what a randomly connected network of people will try and do. Rather, assess *your* patterns - that's what they're doing anyway - and find your own vulnerabilities. In fact, we should be using predictive software to determine what we'll do, and then do something... random. Our best bet is simply to be unpredictable, not to predict them.

Moreover, our efforts towards prevention should be around large scale disaster response. We can assume bad things will happen sometimes, but it's the gigantic, unexpected thing, the Black Swan that's the real danger. Being mobile and responsive, preparing for the worst, we'll do a much better job of fending off attacks.

$.02

wheres the computer that would have stopped GW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22429608)

from invading a country that did not attack us, letting osama slip through tora bora into pakistan, didnt use enough troops in iraq in the first place, lets billions of dollars go unaccounted for and missing, .... where is the computer that is going to make decisions based on basic common sense and logic? where is that machine?

This is monkeyshine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22429686)

This crap has to stop if we are ever going to balence the budget or have a productive society.

In the early parts of the cold war there were "researchers" who got millions from the government for making charts and databases of who sat where during the Moscow May Day parade and similar bullshit, and analyzed and tried to predict "the Soviets are having problems with X missile program" based on the fact that someone coughed when a truck passed by or some shit.

Every few years the program would die off and be re-incarnated slightly different. In spite of the money spent, the cold war was characterized by the US being caught by surprise numerous times and generally vastly over estimating the enemy.

In the last few decades, a new twist on the scheme is to use "prediction markets" or betting pools, and some how devine the future from the numbers. If you talk to the proponents of those schemes, it is never clear where they think the information that Osama is about to attack will come from -- do they think that the billionaire cave-dweller terrorist himself will not be able resist investing in the market ? That one of his subordinates will do so ? That the CIA analysts who should know can't be trusted to tell the truth in their reports, but that for the sake of a couple of grand they will reveal their real opinions in a glorified office betting pool ?

Remember when experts used to get on Fox News and gravely announce that the "chatter" had risen in their captured communications ? Did they ever call one right ?

The fact is, there is a deeply embedded human instinct, to believe when presented with a bunch of random or semi-random data, there is some clue to be decoded. People spend their lives decoding hidden messages in Shakespeare, the Bible, the innards of sacrificed chickens, credit card transactions, stock market fluctuations, tea leaves, phone records, etc. Suppose these goddamn charlatans find that you can print out the data, turn it sideways and squint, and it looks even more like Jesus than the famous grilled cheese sandwhich. What then ?

There is likely little we can do to reduce the overall amount of research spending. But I believe that even ordinay people can effect the direction of it; and we can do that through mockery and redicule. Those eggheads may claim to investigate the truth for pure science and the advancement of knowledge useful to humans, but if every taxi driver, plumber, or student laughed in their faces when told what they researched, they'd write grants for something else. And since that something else might have a slim chance of being useful, that's what we ought to do.

Just like weather forcasting. (1)

v(*_*)vvvv (233078) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429706)

For some reason the even the weather seems easier to predict than terror, yet we still get it wrong. It isn't like the wind and the clouds conspire against us.

"Now to Brenda, for this weeks terror forcast."

"3% chance of war."

No need to flee the country this weekend. Great.

Yeah good luck with that (1)

EEPROMS (889169) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429744)

I recently listened to a podcast about risk analysis using software. What I found amusing is the World Tower (9/11) attacks had a high prediction but the pointy headed ones called it an aberration so ignored it. You can have the best analysis on the planet even with a 99% certainty but all you need is some pin headed public servant to ignore it either for political or personal reason and the whole thing falls apart.

Backtesting doesn't guarantee success... (1)

MadMorf (118601) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429924)

Just like backtesting stock trading strategies doesn't guarantee future success, this probably won't make anyone any safer than making us take off our shoes, or emptying our shampoo bottles, before we get on airplanes...

But, someone will make a fortune from it...

Here's what I propose...It will probably work just as well...

Send emails to half of the people telling them to stay home and to the other half, tell hem to act as usual...

Lather, rinse, repeat...Profit!

Who cares, the army of the 12Monkeys already knows (1)

nicolasmendo (672317) | more than 6 years ago | (#22429966)

JEFFREY
                Here's my theory on that. While I was
                institutionalized, my brain was studied
                exhaustively in the guise of mental health.
                I was interrogated, x-rayed, studied
                thoroughly. Then, everything about me
                was entered into a computer where they
                created a model of my mind.

        They all stare, mesmerized, at the strutting JEFFREY. Is he
        serious? Is he crazy? Doesn't matter -- he's charismatic.

                                JEFFREY (cont.)
                Then, using the computer model, they
                generated every thought I could possibly
                have in the next, say ten years, which
                they then filtered through a probability
                matrix to determine everything I was
                going to do in that period. So you
                see, she knew I was going to lead the
                Army of the Twelve Monkeys into the
                pages of history before it ever even
                occurred to me. She knows everything
                I'm ever going to do before I know it
                myself. How about that?

Saving lives (1)

fletch44 (1070720) | more than 6 years ago | (#22430018)

I love that idea that this information might help to save lives. What it really means is that the army gets to kill a lot more foreigners on their land, with less risk to themselves. More people will die, not less. But I forgot, brown people don't count as real people, especially if they don't speak English.
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