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Computer Models Find Patterns In Asymmetric Threats 214

Posted by Soulskill
from the pseudo-random-nutcase-generator dept.
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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Computer Models Find Patterns In Asymmetric Threats

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  • So predict the unpredictable?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FleaPlus (6935)
      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.
      • by milsoRgen (1016505) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @07:52PM (#22428916) Homepage
        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.
        • by FleaPlus (6935)
          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?
          • 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?
    • by wall0159 (881759)
      If you think that then you obviously have no understanding of probability. Please educate yourself:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Probability_distribution [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_variable [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistics [wikipedia.org]
  • A step up. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Thursday February 14, 2008 @07:36PM (#22428732) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @07:49PM (#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.

      • Until the terrorists start reading the predictions and deliberately doing something else.
      • by Protonk (599901) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @09:03PM (#22429594) Homepage
        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: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by wall0159 (881759)
        "The climatologists keep tweaking the models until they get what they expect and are then smug because the models "prove" their predictions."

        That is a load of crap. If you don't know the difference between a priori and post hoc analysis, then please refrain from speaking as if you do. There's enough mis-information regarding climate change already without people like you contributing.

        To digress, this attitude that climate scientists' results are due to such well understood logical fallacies is like s
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805)
      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 tortur
      • How does your theory explain 9/11 and all the other scores of terrorist attacks that happened back when we were leaving Iraq alone?
        • and all the other scores of terrorist attacks that happened back when we were leaving Iraq alone?

          Iraq wasn't involved in 9/11. there were however a few attacks after the invasion- just not here. before 9/11 people were told that they should cooperate w/ hijackers to avoid getting hurt as the hicker(s) wanted a destination. after 9/11 people thought differently here- you're not going to see any of that again. people now realize that the hijacker might not be interested in getting anyone to their destina

  • game theory (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2008 @07:37PM (#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 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @07:53PM (#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).

      • by patio11 (857072) on Friday February 15, 2008 @01:32AM (#22431180)
        counterintelligence realized most people do not flip when crossing the street.

        No, I'm joking. Seriously though, one of the things the military does in Iraq when looking for the foreign jihadis is they watch for wrong turns off main thoroughfares. It is apparently pretty effective at sorting out people who aren't from around here -- if you know Main Street less well than the Americans, you just might be from out of town!
    • Re:game theory (Score:4, Insightful)

      by psykocrime (61037) <mindcrime.cpphacker@co@uk> on Thursday February 14, 2008 @08:12PM (#22429132) Homepage Journal
      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Protonk (599901)
        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
  • by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @07:38PM (#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.
  • by nexuspal (720736) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @07:42PM (#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: (Score:2, Funny)

      by milsoRgen (1016505)
      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.
    • by FleaPlus (6935)
      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.
    • by Protonk (599901)
      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 c
  • I have discovered the final solution:

    They attack the weak point for massive damage!
    • by geekoid (135745)
      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.

  • by ngr8 (504185) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @07:50PM (#22428898) Journal
    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.
  • by caitsith01 (606117) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @08:00PM (#22429018) Journal
    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.
    • by shiftless (410350)
      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,

      Why is Afghanistan included on this list..and what "false pretenses" are you referring to? There's nothing false about the bridges, schools, hospitals, factories, etc being built every day in Afghanistan under watch of the ISAF.
  • If these models work out I'd say we might be seeing the beginnings of Psycho-history...
    • 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 :)
  • by nickhart (1009937) <nickhart@gmaiDEGASl.com minus painter> on Thursday February 14, 2008 @08:16PM (#22429170) Homepage
    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. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by FatSean (18753) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @08:42PM (#22429390) Homepage Journal
      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ieshan (409693)
        This "don't you think you'd help fight the Chinese!" argument is so asinine it's not funny.

        If the Chinese came and took over Hawaii, you can bet hard money that citizens wouldn't be setting off bombs in supermarkets or strapping explosives to disabled people to use as weaponry. The disabled people that they strap weapons to aren't fighting "the noble fight", they're people who don't know the difference because of mental disability. Would we use the full force of our military to stop such an attack? Of cours
  • Save Lives? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrSteveSD (801820) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @08:24PM (#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.
    • How about saving lives by not using air-strikes in densely populated civilian neighbourhoods?

      If you want to reduce fatalities from explosions in Iraqi neighborhoods, why not take a stand against things that really happen instead of imaginary problems? The explosions that are killing significant numbers of Iraqi civilians are from bus, truck, and car bombs [news.com.au] and suicide bomb [washingtonpost.com] attacks conducted by Al Qaeda and other extremists, not imaginary US air strikes. This isn't exactly an obscure fact. Politically unp
  • 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 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 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by yuri2001 (972608)
    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.

  • by rubycodez (864176) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @08:51PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NMerriam (15122)

      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,

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dachannien (617929)
      Maybe you haven't been keeping up with things, but the Iraqis are actually taking their country back from the insurgents/terrorists now, with US help in training their army and police. While there are still some bad spots - Al Qaeda moved to Mosul after Baghdad started getting too tough for them - things are enormously better in Iraq now. Iraqis who have day-to-day contact with US forces (and a lot of them do) have a very positive image of our troops, often trusting them to get things done because the Ira
  • 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 Window

  • 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.
  • 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!

  • How about a study (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Swampash (1131503) on Thursday February 14, 2008 @10:49PM (#22430382)
    ...on why the USA is so hated that there have been TWELVE THOUSAND terrorist attacks in three and a half years?

    Or is that just crazy defeatist talk?
  • John McCain wants to spend another century collecting data [google.com] for this research project.
  • What a pantload. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Friday February 15, 2008 @11:48AM (#22435696) Journal
    Terrorist Attacks? What? Some dumbass strapping dynamite to his chest and wandering into a crowded market? OK - that takes munitions. Taking over a plane with razor knives and flying it into a skyscraper? Takes no munitions, just a shitload of nerve and a complacent herd of passengers. Both result in lots of dead innocent civilians.

    But then there are other forms of terrorism, such as flying a B2 filled to the gunnels with high explosive munitions that rain down on the homes and hovels of innocent civilians.

    Americans like to bark about terrorism as in the form taken by small groups of murderous assholes, frequently on a suicide mission. And they bark louder when a state gets involved in support of such efforts. But they refuse to take responsibility (much less blame) when they themselves act as State Sponsored and funded terrorists by bombing the living fuck out of innocent civilians. Whether it's a team of suicide bombers or a team of bomber flight crew, the results are the same: mass death of innocent civilians.

    And don't go cracking a pantload over how the Iraqis attacked your freedom. WHEN did the boat filled with Iraqi soldiers float to the USA and attack your freedom? What day was that? I sure would like to know because I was taking a vacation in this lovely little place called REALITY. The USA is a terrorist nation. Its unwarranted and unwanted and utterly idiotic invasion of Iraq has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people there. Whether it is death strapped to some delusional team of assholes chanting ALLAH, or some cynical assholes flying at 12,000m dropping ordnance all over a city and thinking it's a job well done, the results are the same: dead civilians at the hands of a team of assholes.

    Here's a way to predict terrorists attacks: check the flying sortie records of the US Air Force.

    RS

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