Making good intelligence even better

SAS Institute Australia Pty Limited

By Jonathan Nally
Tuesday, 28 August, 2018


Making good intelligence even better

Law enforcement and security agencies are coming to grips with a deluge of data and the urgent need for intelligent analysis.

It seems that every day we hear of another example of a data breach, ransomware attack, network compromise and even election tampering. The 21st-century technology that has so revolutionised our world for the better is being used against us by the bad guys. And often the bad guys seem to be winning.

So, what is the solution? Is it better technology? More good guys on the job? Better sources of data? No doubt all of those will help, but raw materials are only as good as the purpose to which they are put. And in the security world that means analysis and intelligence. That’s where the solution will lie.

To learn more about the application of intelligence for law enforcement and security, we spoke with Steve Bennett (Director, Global Government Practice, SAS) and Guy Bourne (Senior Industry Consultant, SAS A/NZ) to get their expert views on the challenges ahead.

GTR: Cybercriminals and terrorists are just as smart as we are. What can we do to stay one step ahead?

Steve Bennett: Tools and technology alone aren’t sufficient to give government an edge. What makes the difference is the use of technology coupled with law enforcement and intelligence expertise and workflow. The security agencies we work with around the world resonate with this kind of approach because it empowers and augments their existing workflows and tradecraft, helping them to do what they do, better and faster. The best way for organisations to stay a step ahead is to use technology to support and enable their mission, not just install a bunch of tools.

Guy Bourne: Importantly, organisations need to understand new technologies, and how they can be used strategically by either side. It should go without saying that operational efficiencies should be in place, but often, particularly where there has been little investment in IT for long periods, we see a lot of talented analysts struggle to keep up with the accelerated pace and volume of data that needs consideration.

GTR: How can structured and unstructured data be more effectively combined?

SB: Most government agencies describe themselves as no longer wishing they had more data, but rather that they are drowning in data and finding it difficult to make use of it. A critically important way that agencies can take a leap forward in using more of what they have is to leverage that data just as it is. But instead of taking inordinate amounts of time to attempt to convert unstructured data into structured data in the hope that it’s easier to use, advanced techniques in text analytics and artificial intelligence for the first time allow agencies to extract value from all of their data — structured, unstructured or a mixture of the two.

GTR: What are some best practices for intelligence strategies and implementations?

GB: Having strategic vision, and the executive support to deliver, is essential. Intelligence is a process that requires creativity and careful thought. In high-pressured environments there will always be pressure to act fast, but this needs to be balanced with considering the information and intelligence at hand. Executive support backs up the analysts on the coalface and helps deliver quality intel products. When it comes to implementing AI and other analytical techniques, the key thing is to involve the specialist early on. We’re generally talking about a huge cultural change, and the analysts will only buy in if they understand the tools.

GTR: How can organisations bridge the gap between coming up with a strategy and then implementing it?

SB: As Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” A strategy is necessary for success but not sufficient. Implementing a strategy for success requires the ability to convert high-level strategic goals into tightly scoped, achievable and measurable objectives — which are then used to help shape and guide the culture of the organisation. Operational staff in security agencies must buy in to the strategy and the plan for implementing it, otherwise it’s just another mission statement.

GTR: Are government agencies and departments siloed when it comes to security intelligence and threat mitigation?

SB: While not universally true, unfortunately many law enforcement and security agencies in countries around the world are in fact quite ‘siloed’ in terms of intelligence and threat awareness. The reasons for this are varied — sometimes historical, sometimes cultural, sometimes just accidental. But it is almost always universally bad in terms of security outcomes for citizens. The solution is to apply platform approaches to data management that appropriately protect and restrict truly sensitive data while at the same time facilitating free flow and integration of other information for better integrated situational awareness.

GB: In Australia, we’re seeing a strong move towards collaboration, and this makes sense. When it comes to public safety, it is simply unacceptable for a government not to be able to act when it has the information. A number of organisations are actively exploring a ‘need to share’ mentality, but in putting this into practice, we must consider the impact of new technologies on security policies and architectures. The Human Rights Commission has just launched a program to explore the issue.

GTR: How does SAS approach the intelligence challenge?

GB: The marketplace for intelligence used to be split clearly into specialist search and visualisation, and analytics-driven investigations, typically used more in intelligence functions in financial services (FS). The trend in the market is that the needs of most intelligence functions — FS, government or otherwise — are converging and require both capabilities, leading to consolidated offerings. This means that a lot of vendors have had to learn how to do artificial intelligence, machine learning and even traditional statistical analysis, which isn’t easy! In the government space there needs to be a conscious effort to measure the potential ethical impacts, understanding biases in the data, and how to change information collection to help modernise practices. We feel that SAS’s experience in this area and our consultative approach really separates us from the competition when it comes to adopting these technologies.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/freshidea

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