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7/31/2012
02:42 PM
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Olympics Tap Big Data To Enhance Security

Olympics crime fighters are using big data analysis techniques to identify suspicious activity, imminent threats, and unexpected holes that attackers could exploit.

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Since 1972 – when 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were kidnapped and killed by terrorists using the high-profile venue for their own purposes--security has been nearly as high a priority at the Olympic Games as sportsmanship.

Digital security always scored a distant second place behind physical security because the threat of physical terrorism is more dire than any digital threat, and because cybersecurity threats have been far less effective than physical threats, security analysts said.

Physical security is still the top priority--which inspired restrictions on attendees even more strict than TSA limits on what U.S. airline passengers can carry on the plane.

Cybersecurity is still a second priority, but its tools and techniques are helping to shore up physical security at the Games, using big data analysis techniques to identify suspicious activity, imminent threats, and unexpected holes attackers in the real or digital worlds could exploit.

Digital attacks on the London Olympics could easily surpass the 12 million hack attempts recorded during the Beijing Olympics four years ago, according to Larry Ponemon of the Ponemon Institute.

Attacks could come from political hacktivist groups such as Anonymous, nationalist or terrorist groups, or--most numerous and most likely to throw their black hats into the competition for tourist dollars--highly organized, sophisticated criminal organizations, Ponemon said.

[ Get more Olympic-caliber business advice. Read Olympics Lessons For Social Media Strategists. ]

The clearest--and least-expected--contribution is the real-time situational-awareness system built up using security information and event management (SIEM) systems and log files from network servers, digital-door-lock scanners, firewalls, point-of-sale systems, and other computer-enhanced systems that would normally be neglected until long after the Games were over.

Instead, big data analysis apps are searching through the tens of thousands of logs generated every day. They are tracking nearly every hint of physical and digital activity within the Olympic Village and the population of spectators and Olympic Games workers outside it.

Channeled to the SIEM system and big data analysis engines, the logs--which could amount to petabytes of data by the end of the Games--offer a detailed picture of all potentially suspicious activity in real time, rather than weeks after the Games are over, according to Chris Petersen, CTO and cofounder of log-analysis and SIEM vendor LogRhythm.

Sifting through logs to identify when and where someone is using an electronic passcard to go through the wrong door at the wrong time is invaluable, but not terribly useful if the security system isn't also prepped with a series of automated responses and countermeasures to expected threats, Petersen wrote.

Applying big data to forensic data search and analysis is unusual in the world of big data, but could give responders in Olympics security operations centers (SOC) both early warning of threats and preconfigured ways to respond to them in ways security staff at previous Games couldn't manage, Petersen wrote.

For hackers, the easiest targets may be the near-field communications (NFC) systems Visa is sponsoring that allow tourists to pay at food stalls, souvenir stands, and ticket vendors using no-touch digital-wallet payment systems, according to Robert Siciliano, an identity theft expert and blogger for McAfee security.

Mobile contactless payments--which allow smartphones loaded with security certificates and transaction software to act as credit or debit cards--may be convenient, but also give attackers a thinly defended point of entry for mobile payment systems on both Android and iOS devices, Siciliano wrote in a McAfee blog earlier this month.

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