Jul 28, 2016

Jul 28, 2016

What Is Intelligence?

Since Colossus (the first programmable computer) was created in 1943, computers have been
associated with military codes, spying, and sensitive data. As the machines grew smaller and entered our homes and then our pockets, they have brought people together across the globe with quick access to information. But as more of the world goes online, we’ve become more aware that our information, our actions, our clicks can be collected, saved, and our digital footprints may never disappear.

When we think of intelligence, we often think of this cyber intelligence or of International spies, and we are faced with dread and worry; yet, we may not really understand what intelligence is, how it is utilized, and who is really analyzing our data.

Let’s take an introductory look at what intelligence really is and how it can actually benefit you.

Old Images of Intelligence Stay With Us

In the 1983 tech thriller, “War Games,” pre-Ferris Bueller Matthew Broderick inadvertently hacked into a United States military computer in his spare time after school. The most memorable scene that terrified viewers who were just beginning to have IBM, Commodore, and Apple computers in their homes was when the supercomputer eerily asked him, “Shall we play a game?” in an attempt to start World War III with a high-stakes game of computer chess. The movie was a breakout hit for young Broderick, and it also thrust computer hacking and intelligence gathering into the public Cold War consciousness.




In the 30-plus years since “War Games” hit the big screen, we’ve seen “Sneakers”, with the famous line, “The world isn’t run by weapons anymore, or energy, or money. It’s run by little ones and zeroes, little bits of data.” We’ve seen Sandra Bullock get entangled in a web of computer espionage in “The Net.”  We’ve seen “The Matrix” trilogy, “Firewall”, and “Swordfish”, which let us know in no uncertain terms: “The best crackers in the world can do this under 60 minutes”, but it’s possible for someone to wreak havoc via a keyboard in only 60 seconds.

Even when presented as bumbling cartoons like Boris and Natasha or Spy vs. Spy, we think of intelligence gatherers and the information they collect with trepidation. We have been programmed to fear computers, their intricate inner-workings, and those who know how to manipulate computers and data collected from them. While the images on celluloid scare us, we’re also being protected by digital intelligence and the many other kinds of intelligence while we work, play, and sleep.

Intelligence Defined

Intelligence is defined in the simplest terms as “the tracking, analyzing and countering of security threats.” As Hollywood has shown us, intelligence can be used by bad guys for bad means, but as you’ll learn from our blog series, intelligence is more often used by the ones in the white hats whose mission is to protect us all.

Information gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance have military roots and intelligence is  grounded in defense. The U.S. Department of Justice defines intelligence as “a product and process from collecting, processing, analyzing, and using information to meet an identified goal.” Intelligence TTP (tactics, techniques, and procedures) are enlisted for that goal, which is to protect citizens from existing and potential threats.

Types of Intelligence

In this series, we will delve deeper into:

  • Cyber Intelligence/Digital Network Intelligence (CYBINT/DNINT)- information gathered from cyberspace
  • Criminal Intelligence (CRIMINT)- used by law enforcement agencies
  • Forensic Intelligence - employing science-backed data to create links for investigating crimes
  • Imagery Intelligence (IMINT)- collection of satellite and aerial photographs, sensors, radar, and lasers
  • Financial Intelligence (FININT)- understanding and predicting an entity’s financial affairs and capabilities
  • Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) - gathering of information from public sources

These are some of the most exciting and impactful types of intelligence that people find to be interesting and have some affect on their daily lives.

But what else is there?

You are probably most familiar with the precursor to digital intelligence, the pre-computer age, spy game, Human Intelligence (HUMINT). Human intelligence is mostly positive in nature, although there is some counterintelligence value. Information gleaned from human intelligence includes “observations during travel or other events from travelers, refugees, escaped friendly POWs, etc. It can provide data on things about which the subject has specific knowledge, which can be another human subject, or, in the case of defectors and spies, sensitive information to which they had access. Finally, it can provide information on interpersonal relationships and networks of interest.” [1]

Three other basic intelligence disciplines are:

Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) - investigation of signals by people or electronic communications
Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) - detecting, tracking, and identifying characteristics of targets
Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) - analysis about human activities on Earth

There’s also Medical Intelligence (MEDINT), Meteorological Intelligence, traffic analysis, cryptanalysis (deciphering hidden messages), and more. The world of intelligence is vast, and is not limited to military efforts or computers with internet connections.

How Intelligence Benefits You

On a day-to-day, more personal level, intelligence: 
  • protects your computer from viruses
  • keeps nefarious criminals from accessing your bank account
  • combats theft and fraud that consequently raise the prices you pay
  • makes your internet searches faster and more accurate
  • introduces you to new friends via popular apps like Pok√©mon GO
  • makes your travels safer
  • helps you to stay healthy
  • and can even keep you from getting “Catfished” in online dating.

Intelligence in the News

Intelligence gathering has been in major recent headlines. After 14 people were killed and almost two dozen were injured in a shooting attack in San Bernardino, California, in 2015, the FBI went after Apple in an attempt to extract data from the shooter’s iPhone. It was a big, precident-setting case about intelligence gathering and privacy. Ultimately, the FBI was able to access the iPhone with help from a source other than Apple, but not without us debating Apple’s stance on their customers’ privacy and information gathering techniques[2].  There are goals, ethics, and mores involved in every aspect of intelligence, and a tech giant like Apple has proven to us that subjects and their privacy should not be compromised.

Another example is the July 2016 leak of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails by alleged Russian hackers which asserts wrongdoing and conspiracy against Presidential nominee Bernie Sanders by his own political party. [3]

Intelligence is also not always utilized as it could or should be. Take for example the insurance industry. There are technological gaps, legacy systems, lacks of updates in systems and training, and other resources so that in 2012, a ring of fraudsters ran a $275 million dollar scam, spanning real and fake car accidents, doctors, three guys named Mike, and the FBI.[4]  Better intelligence methods could have detected this fraud long before the claims and numbers racked up at the cost of honest insurance policy holders and administrators.




Look Forward Without Fear

Information obtained from intelligence should not exist just for data’s sake; it needs to meet a goal. “Dragnet type intelligence operations hinder analysts and negatively impact security.[5]”   Ever since “Big Brother” became a part of our vernacular (and sometimes, in some places, a part of our reality) from George Orwell’s 1949 science fiction novel 1984, citizens have been concerned with how much our governments know about us, how our actions can be tracked, and what about us can (or should) remain private.



Whether intelligence is used against someone in a negative way (theft by fraud and cyber hacking), in a positive way (to protect innocents against threats), or in a negative way for positive means (hacks by Anonymous group to expose corruption), we have more to benefit from intelligence than to fear. Intelligence isn’t just a game of chess, and maybe the next generation of movies will show more of us being saved and helped because of it.


[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_intelligence_(intelligence_gathering)
[2]http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/28/11317396/apple-fbi-encryption-vacate-iphone-order-san-bernardino
[3]http://arstechnica.com/security/2016/07/new-evidence-suggests-dnc-hackers-penetrated-deeper-than-previously-thought/
[4]http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/feds-city-ring-ran-275m-car-insurance-scam-article-1.1030439
[5]http://www.tripwire.com/state-of-security/security-data-protection/introduction-cyber-intelligence/



Intrigued? Be sure to follow us to learn more in our series on Intelligence.
You can also explore the topic in-depth with this Reading List:


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