What Can Al-Quaeda and ISIS Learn From Facebook?

Are you a target?

Are you a target?

You are a target market.  Or maybe just a target.  In fact, there might not be much difference.  If the goal is to pry you away from your money, it may be just as effective to use analytics to identify you for criminal purposes as for legitimate commerce.  With the rapid growth in the sophistication of spear-phishing attacks and other criminal uses of what appear to be legitimate online marketing, there is every reason to think that the rapidly advancing capabilities of big data analytics will soon be used to selectively target the most likely and/or vulnerable victims.  It would be really surprising if these tools and techniques are not already in use for criminal purposes.

If criminals can profit by adding big data analytics to their nasty bag of tricks, why would Al-Quaeda and ISIS hesitate to do the same? They do not hesitate to take human beings hostage and then torture and kill them in horrific fashion, so why would they not do as much damage as possible to innocent individuals via online attacks?

To suppose that these violent and depraved people simply cannot avail themselves of the required technology seems extremely naïve.  In the years leading to September 11, 2001, a sizeable network of intelligent and highly focused men learned enough technology to fly modern passenger aircraft into buildings.  Fifteen years later, with unlimited technological knowledge freely available online and via MOOCS, surely we should assume that Al-Quaeda and ISIS have skilled programmers among their ranks.

Cyber attacks are nowhere near as expensive as military attacks using standard weapons and explosives, so they will not be seriously limited by funding.  Clearly, terrorist groups are motivated to cause enormous harm to any who oppose them, so we should not assume they would hesitate to use all the means at their disposal to cause as much damage as possible.

On the positive side, we can safely assume that terrorist groups don’t have easy access to anything like the quantities of personal data that are at the disposal of behemoths such as Facebook and Google.  However, a very important consideration is that much of this data is for sale on the open market for advertising purposes, or is otherwise available online.

How much do Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter, Netflix, LinkedIn, Apple, Microsoft, Pandora, Spotify … etc. know about you and your behavior?  If you want to get an idea, just look at how closely the advertising you see reflects your online activities.  During the past 2 years, marketing executives in every kind of business have been hearing a growing chorus of experts telling them that they must invest in big data analytics in order to be competitive.

As I was saying, you are a target market.  Or maybe just a target.


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