President Obama’s Interest in Big Data Analyses

bigdataThe President has expressed interest in how analyses of big data (also known as big data analyses or BDA) can improve emergency preparedness and overall national security. As a result, the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) drafted a Report to the President on Big Data Analytics. The report first provides an overview of BDA and then examines its use in three different scenarios: Natural Disasters, Man-Made Disasters, and Cyber Attacks on Critical Infrastructure. The overview and these four scenarios are summarized below.

Overview of BDA

The three concrete characteristics of big data consist of the three Vs: Volume (it’s always a gigantic amount of data); Variety (data emanating from “multiple repositories, domains, or types”), and Velocity (the flow of data is constant and can also be time sensitive). Big data applications work especially well in critical infrastructure with near-universally accepted terminology; examples mentioned in the report include healthcare, transportation, and city management.

Using BDA for National Security

Natural Disasters

In this scenario the report cites how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has expanded its weather-monitoring to “analyze over a billion weather observations daly. […] Data sources can be as varied as a multi-billion dollar radar array to a basic Internet-connected weather station at a local high school.” Applying a super-computing capability to analyze patterns from this massive dataset allows for NOAA to receive advanced warning of potentially life-threatening natural disasters.

Man-Made Disasters

This scenario’s premise revolves around a terrorist group plotting an attack on U.S. soil. If a specialized counter-terrorism (CT) team could identify the group’s members, then ideally a super-computer would be able to analyze the following patterns: communication (mobile, email, and social media), location, travel itineraries, and financial transactions. With all of this information, the CT team would have a much greater perspective on where the terrorists were focusing their efforts.

Cyber Attacks on Critical Infrastructure

This final scenario involves a cyber attack on one of the “major lifeline sectors such as power, water, communications, [and/or] financial services.” BDA can be used to recognize potential threats by monitoring users with suspicious activity patterns. Additionally BDA of Spam filters, internet traffic, and program structure can designate items of questionable validity and help authorities to address corresponding vulnerabilities.


For more resources on Big Data Analysis, take a look at the following resources available at the Homeland Security Digital Library (some resources may require HSDL login):