ODNI journeys to the center of virtual worlds

Online gaming and virtual worlds are now being targeted for federal data-mining research as a possible source of intelligence about terrorist activity, according to a new report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The budding research project focusing on virtual worlds and gaming environments is called Reynard. Though in its early stages, Reynard's research goal is to "determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world," states the report.

Reynard is one of five research programs involving possible data mining described in ODNI's 15-page report to Congress. The document provides an unclassified summary of data-mining activities at ODNI's Office of Science and Technology's Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

Reynard is described as a small program that is just beginning, not yet a full-scale project. It was undertaken in part because the behavior of online gamers and inhabitants of virtual environments is not being studied elsewhere.

"If it shows early promise, this small seedling effort may increase its scope to a full project," the report states.

ODNI has other research projects related to data mining:
  • Knowledge Dissemination and Discovery seeks to discover patterns of behavioral data that may indicate criminal or terrorist activity. The tools are being evaluated in several Intelligence Community Science and Technology offices.
  • Tangram evaluates threat information and may include data mining to determine patterns. The project focuses on threat surveillance and early-warning systems.
  • Video Analysis and Content Extraction focuses on automatically detecting content from video feeds. This includes features such as object detection, change detection and scene classification.
  • ProActive Intelligence studies terrorist organizations. It does not use data mining now, but it may do so in the future.

Data mining has been a feature of federal and commercial research for several years. It involves the use of computer tools to discover hidden patterns in behavior with the goal of using those patterns to predict future behavior.

Data mining has been a growth area for federal contractors involved in intelligence, homeland security and defense.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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