Leveraging on Digital Footprints to Identify Potential Security Threats: Insights From the Behavioural Sciences Perspective

Leveraging on Digital Footprints to Identify Potential Security Threats: Insights From the Behavioural Sciences Perspective

Loo Seng Neo (Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre, Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9715-5.ch068

Abstract

The growing pervasiveness of the internet and the rise of social media have revolutionised how individuals communicate and interact with one another. Serving as an effective conduit for communication, these technological advancements have also been exploited by individuals with malicious intent (e.g., criminals, violent extremists). As the world witnesses an upward trend of such crime and security concerns in the online sphere, it places the ‘responsibility' on intelligence and law enforcement agencies to respond with the appropriate technological interventions. Thus, this article will discuss how digital footprints can be leveraged to identify potential security threats, particularly for crime and security issues that will result in negative repercussion at the national level, such as acts of violent extremism and hate crimes.
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Introduction

The growing pervasiveness of the internet has revolutionised how individuals communicate and interact with one another. Despite being an effective channel for communication, it has also been exploited by individuals with malicious intent – such as criminals, violent extremists – for the purposes of fundraising, recruitment, propaganda creation and dissemination, sharing of vital information, data mining, etc. With the ease of accessibility and cloak of anonymity, individuals with malicious intent have reorganised their operations online to exist and operate in social environments that may not agree with their activities.

Violent extremists of all affiliations have exploited this technological advancement to transform the way they operate on a historically unprecedented scale. As Weimann (2004) posited, “Islamists, Marxists, nationalists and separatists, racists and anarchists all find the internet alluring” (p. 3). The internet and the opportunity it offers, allow violent extremists to expand the functionalities of their propaganda efforts beyond that the boundaries of the traditional, mainstream media (Europol, 2014). Violent extremists are no longer dependent on traditional media outlets to disseminate their propaganda. For example, it offers the opportunity for violent extremists such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to shape their audience worldviews. Before al-Zarqawi began his online propaganda campaign, it is essential to note that he would have to kill large numbers of people in order to grab the attention of supporters and media (Conway, 2007). However, through the online disseminations of video-taped beheadings of foreign hostages such as Nicholas Berg, al-Zarwawi was able to achieve greater impact and media publicity albeit using fewer resources. The internet has provided him with a readymade audience to exert his influence and presence. The use of the internet by individuals with malicious intent such as violent extremists therefore demands the attention of law enforcement agencies across the world.

In fact, the continuous advancement in information and communications technology can be envisioned to have a dramatic impact on the way such persons of interest may operate. Some recent examples include the online expression of hate during the 2018 Sri Lanka Kandy Riots (Gan, Neo, Chin, & Khader, 2018); acts of insider threats such as WikiLeaks data breach by Bradley Manning (Savage, 2013); online recruitment of members by violent extremist groups (Neo, Dillon, & Khader, 2017); ransomware attacks like ‘WannaCry’ (Tan & Wang, 2017); spread of fake news during the U.S. 2016 Presidential Election (Chen, Tan, Goh, Ong, & Khader, 2018); online circulation of upskirting photos (Luo & Wang, 2018); acts of cyberattacks (Dillon, 2016); and use of spear phishing to gain illegal access to computer networks (Vishwanath, 2016).

As the world witnesses an upward trend of such crime and security concerns in the online sphere, it places additional ‘responsibility’ on intelligence and law enforcement agencies to respond with the appropriate technological interventions (Abdul Rahman, 2019). Because the internet has played an imperative role in the way malicious activities are being conducted, these security agencies are therefore compelled to transform the way they identify potential persons-of-interest, collect usable intelligence, and conduct threat assessments.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Communication: Any kind of communication between either individuals or organisations that occurs on the internet.

Threat Assessment: Threat assessment is a structured group process used to evaluate the risk posed by a student or another person, typically as a response to an actual or perceived threat or concerning behaviour.

Violent Extremism: A willingness to use or support the use of violence to further particular beliefs, including those of a political, social, or ideological nature. This may include acts of terrorism.

Identification Warning Signs: Signs that showcase evidence of identifying with law enforcement, military paraphernalia, attackers, or assassin.

Leakage Warning Signs: Signs that showcase evidence of communication to a third party of an intent to do harm to the target.

Warning Signs: Warning signs are acts which constitute evidence of increasing or accelerating risk.

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