Finding the 'Needle in a Haystack:' High-accuracy Mass Location Surveillance and Predictive Analytics

Apr 22, 2011

Source: Homeland Security Today

Finding the 'Needle in a Haystack:' High-accuracy Mass Location Surveillance and Predictive Analytics

Finding the proverbial "needle in a haystack" - the potential terrorist in a crowded city - has been the focus of countless man-hours and investment since governments vastly increased their intelligence and security efforts following 9/11. Augmenting this effort with high-accuracy (within 50 meters) wireless mass location makes possible the use of predictive analytics, geo-fencing and other advanced surveillance measures.

In turn, these capabilities enable security agencies to identify patterns of behavior, track potential terrorists and selectively deploy resources to prevent attacks. With the ability to effectively identify and locate suspected terrorists, authorities can make significant advances in their efforts in the war on terror.

A country's challenge

Consider the real-life example of a mid-size country with an advanced economy based on oil production that was seeking to bolster its counterterrorism and surveillance capabilities in the wake of heightened tensions in neighboring countries. The threat of terrorist attacks has been a matter of concern, and travelers to the country have been warned to exercise a high degree of caution due to the high threat of terrorism.

The threat is believed mainly to be against Western outposts such as embassies, commercial establishments and other places frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers. The government and its security agencies consider the threats to be potentially harmful to its longstanding and hard-earned reputation as one of the most developed and stable countries in the region.

The specific desire of the government was to deploy a system that would enable its security agencies to accurately and cost-effectively identify and locate potential terrorists and to prevent possible attacks. The decision was made to evaluate high-accuracy wireless location systems, which locate people via their mobile phones and other wireless devices.

The government security agencies responsible for selecting a wireless location system sought a solution that could be deployed relatively quickly, without a dependence on high-maintenance hardware and that could be seamlessly integrated with the country's existing wireless communications infrastructure. The system also had to be able to track suspects across all parts of the country, including border areas, dense urban areas and indoors.

The security agencies first considered Cell-ID solutions, which already existed inherent in the country's wireless network. However, they quickly dismissed Cell-ID due to its relative lack of accuracy when compared with other solutions. The security agencies next turned to GPS solutions, which offer high accuracy in ideal line-of-sight conditions. The agencies ultimately decided against a GPS-enabled system, since GPS chips in mobile devices can be tampered with to avoid detection and the line-of-sight requirement impacted the ability of GPS solutions to locate devices indoors or in urban canyons.

The security agencies turned to RF Pattern Matching (RFPM), a software-based high-accuracy solution that required no additional hardware changes to the mobile phone or at the base stations in the country's wireless network. RFPM identifies the location of mobile devices by comparing wireless measurements such as signal strength against a geo-referenced database of the mobile operator's radio environment.

RFPM also met the criteria of working across a wide range of environments, including the country's dense urban and indoor areas. Since it is independent of line-of-sight conditions, RFPM has proven to be highly reliable for the mission-critical surveillance applications the security agencies are conducting.

High-accuracy wireless location in the toolkit

In this country and elsewhere, wireless operators are required by the government to enable the monitoring of voice calls and data sessions, in a process called Lawful Intercept, for use by law enforcement and security agencies in criminal investigations and for antiterrorist measures. With the addition of high accuracy wireless location, the security agencies are now able to amplify their analytical capabilities and bolster their ability to perform Lawful Location Surveillance and prevent terrorism.

The low accuracy wireless location solutions the security agencies had considered lack precision and could have rendered the country's surveillance efforts ineffective. The security agencies are now able to target searches on focused areas containing a small number of sensitive locations. By choosing the RFPM solution, the government also gained the tools it needed to add advanced analytics to its surveillance and terrorism-prevention activities.

Predictive analytics

Arguably the most powerful capability the security agencies added is predictive analytics. With this in place, they can identify patterns of behavior of known terrorists and selectively deploy resources to try and prevent attacks. By monitoring the location of suspects over a period of time, the security agencies are able to create "heat maps" that identify areas of consistent activity. These are then used by the government to assign priority to areas for increased monitoring and to optimally deploy personnel and equipment.

The security agencies can now predict the location of suspected terrorists based on their observed activities during a given time of day, and work to head them off before they attempt an attack.

Using high-accuracy location, the security agencies also gained the ability to track targets. The locations of tracked targets are then compared against the government's existing security databases to further identify suspicious activity and select suspects for increased surveillance or other preventive actions.

Mass location

The security agencies' chosen high accuracy location solution uniquely supports mass location surveillance of all subscribers on a wireless network. This capability enables them to identify all subscribers in a defined geographic area and is vital to monitor sensitive or highly vulnerable areas within the country.

For example, the security agencies are now able to deploy a geo-fence around the country's main international airport to alert them when any identified targets approach. This greatly enhances the level of security during periods of heightened alerts, and enables the agencies to identify who was in and around an area in the time before and after an attack. This list can then be compared against known terrorists to confirm the suspects and augment any subsequent investigation.

The future of surveillance

Having obtained a significant increase in their surveillance abilities due to the addition of high accuracy wireless location, the security agencies are looking towards the future, and the possibility of integrating even more advanced features. The government is exploring how it might connect its location capability with the country's extensive closed-circuit camera network to create an advanced video surveillance system, and refining its predictive analytics capabilities by adding additional information such as banking and travel data.

At the same time, the government must operate within the privacy regulations enshrined in the country's legal code, balancing the need to anticipate and prevent the terrorists' next move with preserving the civil liberties of its law-abiding citizens.

With high-accuracy wireless location enabling activities such as predictive analytics, mass location, and other advanced surveillance techniques, the government in this example has been able to truly find the "needle in a haystack," and enhance security and surveillance of sensitive areas within the country. Having the ability to track targets and use geo-fences to monitor defined geographies has boosted the security agency's confidence in its ability to prevent terrorist incidents.

Through the intelligent use of cutting-edge technology, the government has ensured that it is able to proactively and efficiently manage threats and gain an advantage in counter-terrorist and counter-intelligence activities, homeland security and other mission-critical efforts.

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