Red Alert: the European project to fight terrorism on the net

(To Andrea Cucco)

The war on terrorism is increasingly complex. The amount of information available on the network, with billions of devices connected, is a world that Security and Intelligence can use but in which terrorism can manage to immerse itself, escape control or - worse - multiply.

"Red Alert" is the name of a program funded by the European Union that aims to highlight, in real time, threats of terrorism or radicalization.

The project aims to bring information collection and predictive analysis to a new level thanks to a particularity: new language processing techniques, media analysis, social network analysis, complex event processing and artificial intelligence, combined with data relating to terrorist groups to allow coordinated actions to be taken in real time. All in compliance with the privacy of citizens.

To understand better Red Alert we met in Rome with a program manager, the Israeli Uri Ben Yaakov, professor and director of the ICT (International Institute for Counter-Terrorism).

Let's start from ICT. What is the purpose of the center?

The Institute is located in Herzliya in Israel and deals with both terrorism and counter-terrorism in an academic environment. We have a Bachelor degree (three-year degree, editor's note) and a Master degree (specialist degree, editor's note) in Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism.

We hold many courses and with young people from different countries, many from NATO. Many students and trainees come from Italy. Actually I don't know why ...

Well, is it because Israel is a reference?

For that there is also the United States. However so it is ...

A state institution?

We are an NGO, so our funding comes from donations and jobs that we do for different governments. One of the activities we are following is "RED ALERT", part of the Horizon 2020 Project, which started in June 2016.

It will end this year ...

That's right, in May.

Will it be possible to continue?

I do not believe. The aim of the program is to demonstrate the possibility of predicting radicalization on the network, in a cyber environment. To do this we have integrated various pre-existing technologies such as the analysis of images (photos and videos), audio, texts, complex events to demonstrate that the final data processing provides a value greater than the sum of the individual technologies.

Do security services share information?

They do it. But with different levels of collaboration that are often bilateral, not multilateral.

Let me explain. If the carabinieri find something in the Romanian language they may have difficulty interpreting data, even with the help of an interpreter. Now, with a platform they can share unclassified information, obviously not 100%, but we can agree on sharing thresholds (remember that 99% of the information comes from open sources!) And obtain results that otherwise they would not have.

The basic idea of ​​the Red Alert project is this: to create a tool capable of combining different technologies and to create a useful platform for different end users.

Does predictive analysis being developed in countries like the United States have anything to do with it?

No. They are investing in different fields and tools.

The work that has been done is not easy. It is difficult to integrate different technologies into one system.

The US is investing a lot of money but Israel is leading in this area.

First he used the interpretation of a foreign language as an example. Israel has the advantage of having citizens from all over the world and capable of perfectly interpreting every nuance ...

He is right. Israel is a country of immigrants. However, nowadays, languages ​​are no longer the original ones. And that's one of the problems we face in the Red Alert program.

Let me explain better: young people express themselves by mixing terms from different dialects or languages. Muslims can use Arabic or slang terms sometimes combined with passages from the Koran. If we have to evaluate radicalization we must keep in mind that the lexicon is no longer the traditional one. A stumbling block for any Artificial Intelligence.

Words are often truncated and Arabic itself has a significant number of variations.

Then let's think about social networks ...

On Instagram we communicate by images!

Exact. How can they be analyzed? They can provide false positives or false negatives.

What results have you achieved?

We are certainly not finished but we can already show that the system works, despite there are adjustments and improvements to be made.

One of the issues that complicated everything was the introduction of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation - General Data Protection Regulation, editor's note).

So far, however, the program has shown that the idea works and is applicable.

Do social platforms collaborate?

Free access to information platforms is sometimes an impediment. Not all of them allow it. Paradoxically, it is easier to obtain information from a social network like Facebook for a private citizen or for a freelancer than for the Municipal Police of Rome!

The difficulties are therefore different ...

Returning to the threat, the basic challenge is to be able to identify a terrorism that can use every possibility provided by the web.

There are videos and messages of threat, propaganda or recruitment that faithfully follow those of information related to the press, advertising, cinema or the institutions themselves! (in the image a message from a terrorist organization resumes in a manner identical a manifesto for the recruitment of the German armed forces).

Will artificial intelligence therefore not be able to replace human intelligence for a long time yet?

Intelligence work is on two levels: the collection of information and the evaluation and analysis. For the first part it is essential, given the huge amount of data, Artificial Intelligence. For the second, despite progress, man will always be needed.

Despite this, the possibilities provided by new technologies are amazing. I have been working in intelligence for 40 years, the tools available are changing incredibly fast, what is possible today was not not 10 but not even 5 years ago, sometimes the previous year.

However, the work of terrorists also adapts to technological progress.

It's true. They are increasingly sophisticated and refined; are the "rules of the game". The task of Intelligence and Security is to always stay one step ahead of them. Red Alert is a tool to do this.

Program link:

Photo: web / ICT / UE