Big Data Analysis Makes Breaches a Greater Threat to Cyber-Security

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2016-02-13 Print this article Print
Big Data Spying

Airline records obtained in a breach would confirm when those employees have traveled and where they came from. Suddenly, you now have the beginnings of a picture of some operation that this agency has carried out.

While such travel data won't reveal a purpose of that hypothetical meeting, other information could. For example, if you have the person's job title and work location, as you would have had from the FBI data breach, then you'd know if there might be a meeting on a topic within their specialty.

Compare that with other hotel stays and other airline arrivals, and you might be able to see whom they're meeting with. While this may sound like a large collection of a lot of tiny details, this is exactly the sort of analysis that works best with big data. All you need is access to many small details over a lot of data.

"You can predict what they're going to do, where they're going to be," Chakravarty explained. He said that with the right data, you can understand a person's behavior and their motives and from that you can usually determine their intent. "We get so paralyzed by an ocean of information," he said. "Most people don't know what to ask for."

Part of the reason many people don't know what to look for is because they're looking for the wrong thing. While there are plenty of specifics that might be useful on some level, it's the big picture that really shows up if you know how to look for it. That technique is called data looming.

Just as a loom is used to create patterns into woven fabric, data looming is a way of looking at big data to reveal patterns inside data. If you examine all of that data that's been gathered, it's possible to find those pattern and then discover actions or vulnerabilities that may not appear by examining each data set separately. But this is only possible with enough data.

The national security challenge, then, is to deny the bad guys the data they need to perform their data looming, to make it impossible to discover those patterns in the data. Without those patterns, it becomes much more difficult to determine how those employee records fit into an overall picture.

Unfortunately, with the low level of security currently being displayed by the U.S. government, the data needed for big data analysis or data looming is far too easy to get. While it's unlikely that President Obama's $19 billion cyber-security project will make it through Congress, the need is there even if the method is wrong.

Cyber-security is critically needed, of course, but it needs to start at the retail level, one agency, one credit card provider at a time. That big effort is probably doomed, but lots of small efforts would make a bigger difference anyway.


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