Detecting hidden terrorist cells in high dimensional communications networks

Terrorist attacks are a recurring threat and in the past decade have been enacted on a global platform including the large-scale tragedy of the September 11 attacks. A considerable body of research on modelling terrorist networks has developed in recent years. In particular, a growing interest in the use of social network measures to capture pertinent characteristics of terrorists and terrorist behaviour has subsequently evolved.

Much research in the literature focuses on individual terrorists and their detection within high-dimensional networks using social network metrics. The research conducted here represents a paradigm shift to the social network analysis of groups of terrorists, by treating a terrorist cell as a hidden network. Hidden terrorist cells in high dimensional communications networks arise when terrorists camouflage connectivity to appear randomly connected to the background network, whilst preserving connectivity between themselves, to facilitate unimpeded information flow. Differences arise in the ease of detection depending upon a number of characteristics including whether:

  • the group use trusted external messengers to propagate information
  • the group are hiding within an online network neighbourhood that supports terrorist activities or other online networks, such as Peer-to-Peer networks
  • the social network metrics are adequately defined to observe hidden terrorist groups
  • clustering cam be detected in the group behaviour over time and space;
  • how often and where in the online network group members are observed.

Adding to the complexity of the problem is the issue of scalability, which imposes limitations on the effectiveness of detection methodologies that have computational times dependent upon network size. Research conducted in this area focuses on addressing these issues and hidden terrorist cell detection in a graph-series of network models derived from real data. The data are taken from known terrorist network structures, internet/telephone measurements and online blogs.

This project is ongoing and is funded by the DSTO.

Contact: Belinda Chiera

Key publications

BA Chiera, 'On the Detection of Hidden Terrorist Cells Immersed in Peer-to-Peer Network Neighbourhoods', The 2nd International Cyber Resilience Conference, Edith Cowan University, Perth Western Australia, August 1-2, 2011.

BA Chiera, 'Towards the Localisation and Detection of Hidden Terrorist Networks: A Group-Based Social Networks Analysis', Proceedings of the Safeguarding Australia Conference, 2010.

D Cropley, A Cropley & B Chiera, 'Diagnosing organizational ingenuity: A taxonomic approach', The Ingenuity Conference, McMaster University, Canada, Sep 8-10, 2011.

BA Chiera, 'Group Based Social Network Characterisation of Hidden Terrorist Networks',Proceedings of the 1st International Cyber Resilience Conference, Edith Cowan University, Perth Western Australia, 23rd August 2010, 11-21, 2010.

Areas of study and research

+ Click to minimise