DHS chief Napolitano: Algorithms a big key in solving security, Big Data puzzle

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano talks science and technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Better algorithms to spot patterns and trends in the serious mass of information the Department of Homeland Security sees everyday is key to national security

That was but one of the talking points DHS chief Janet Napolitano focused on in a lecture on the role of science and technology at the  Massachusetts Institute of Technology today.

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"As threats continually evolve, we need to get smarter about what anomalies to look for, and therefore, better algorithms to spot them. Simply spotting, say explosives or radiological material, is not enough, however. We then need to be able to use that detection capability out in the field, for example, to identify a small, fast-moving boat carrying illicit cargo in a crowded port.  DHS is part of the nation's Intelligence Community, which receives more terabytes of data each day than the entire text holdings of the Library of Congress. The National Counterterrorism Center's 24-hour Operations Center receives 8,000 to 10,000 pieces of counterterrorist information every day," Napolitano said.

Napolitano said such "Big Data" problems need to be solved in an effort to secure everything from the country's networks to infrastructure. Intelligence is not just a matter of having information - it is also about what one does with that information, and how one figures out what it really means, she said. It is about discerning meaning and information from millions - billions - of data points. And when it comes to our security, this is one of our nation's most pressing science and engineering challenges, she said.

"We therefore cannot overstate the need for software engineers and information systems designers. We need communications and data security experts. And we need this kind of talent working together to find new and faster ways to identify and separate relevant data. Then we need to organize the data in ways that analysts, agents, screeners, and guards can use, and we need to get it to them securely, and in real time," she said.

For text of Napolitano's entire lecture, go here.

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