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Data Mining: From the General to the Specific

31 August 2011, by — admin ()

Data mining (deep data analysis) — a collective term used for a set of methods for detecting previously unknown, unusual, interpretable and practically useful knowledge in arrays of data that can be used for making decisions in various fields of human activities.

It’s common knowledge that complete privacy in today’s world is a utopian concept: our names appear in different kinds of lists and reports on a daily basis. We pay for goods and services with credit cards, use mobile phones, buy tickets… And when it comes to the Internet, we leave a colossal number of tracks: from the addresses of visited pages to search engine queries – everything can be intercepted, logged and stored in a single database.

The primary purpose of data mining lies in the analysis of huge amounts of data in such databases (involving special analytical patterns).

For instance, there is nothing suspicious about money being transferred from one account to another. Or about somebody buying a plane ticket to a large city. Or buying a large shipment of fertilizers. Or, let’s say, buying a kitchen timer or several cheap mobile phones from an online store. However, if all of these purchases were made by a single person, the local anti-terror force should definitely take a closer look.

It would seem that combining so many heterogeneous pieces of information is an immensely complex task. However, such a system is absolutely possible and may have been in operation for some time now.

The Total Information Awareness program was developed by the Pentagon from 2002 through 2003 and was aimed at detecting suspicious behavioral patterns. Following a number of public protests, it was renamed to Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) and became nearly completely confidential. The report of the Department of Homeland Security mentions three active programs of this type. Similar solutions are being developed by other countries as well: China, the United Kingdom, Israel and Germany.

The legitimacy of such analysis is a matter of harsh public debate and none of the parties has been able to decide whether security is more important than privacy (or vice versa). And while the debate is in full swing, data collection and analysis are booming on the Internet – the Law hasn’t fully set foot on this land yet.


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