Analytical approach can ferret out terrorists in social websites

May 5th, 2009 - 5:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Facebook Washington, May 5 (IANS) Researchers have worked out ways to ferret out the presence of terrorists in social websites and how they use them to connect with one another to plan attacks.
Yoshiharu Maeno, founder management consultant of the Social Design Group and Yukio Ohsawa, associate professor of engineering, University of Tokyo, explained that their analytical approach to understanding terrorist networks could ultimately help prevent future attacks.

Terrorist attacks can cause significant loss of life, have intense social and environmental impacts, and large economic losses.

Maeno and Ohsawa explained that responding to a terrorist attack is akin to dealing with a natural disaster, with one important difference.

Disaster recovery management is required with both, but in the case of a terrorist attack there is the added pressure of short-term responses to the terrorists themselves and in the long-term the need to identify and weaken the covert foundation underpinning an organised attack.

The team explained that by combining the prior understanding of expert investigators with graph theory and computational data processing, it should be possible to analyse a terrorist network and reveal latent connections and patterns.

Researchers have carried out such an analysis of the network responsible for the 9/11 attacks in 2001 in order to evaluate the performance of their approach.

Their scheme is analogous to the structure of the worldwide web where individual web pages may have one or two connections, small organisations may have a few more.

Major hubs like Google, news sources like CNN and the BBC, and social media networks such as Facebook and MySpace have many, many more. These big nodes act as the hubs through which individual and smaller sites are interconnected.

The team’s computational analysis of the terrorist network associated with the 9/11 attacks revealed nodes that were not apparent to security experts in advance of the attacks.

The analysis revealed a connection not known in advance of 9/11 between Waleed Alshehri and Mohand Alshehri, who share a name but are unrelated, which indicated the existence of Mustafa Ahmed Al-Hisawi as an important individual in the network.

Alshehri helped Mohammed Atta hijack the AA11 and fly it into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. Alshehri hijacked the AA175 and flew it into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre. Waleed Alshehri had six links and is, the researchers demonstrate, the keystone person.

Having such network insights sooner rather than later would allow investigators to gather information on associates, friends, and relatives of a suspect terrorist and so bring the perpetrators to justice that much sooner or perhaps even unravel a network plotting future attacks, said a Tokyo University release.

These findings were published in the current issue of the International Journal of Services Sciences.

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