University Program Trains Data Analysts, Gathers Intelligence for U.S. Agencies

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A partnership between Auburn University and Intelligent Software Solutions is adding a novel wrinkle to the old adage of learning by doing. In this case, Auburn students will hone real-world data analytics skills by gathering military intelligence for the U.S. government.

Auburn, a public university in Auburn, Alabama, with more than 25,000 students, trains students in data modeling and simulation, cyber forensics and cyber risk analysis at its Cyber Research Center.

ISS, based in Colorado Springs, develops software solutions for the U.S. government. Its data analysis and visualization, geo-temporal analysis and semantic data processing products are used by the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security as well as foreign governments. 

The partnership between the university and the software company was established to train students in open source intelligence by gathering data for the U.S. intelligence community, according to Kent Bimson, chief scientist and head of ISS's Small Business and University Technology Transition Partnership Program.

Open source intelligence applies analysis to any kind of publically available information, including Web sites, tweets and blogs, to help answer specific questions. It creates “a situational picture” and has both military as well as commercial applications, Bimson said.

Approximately 40 students are currently being trained in the use of ISS’ Web-Enabled Temporal Analysis System, the company's toolkit for data analysis. WebTAS can access hundreds of disparate databases and build a logical model to unify the data, which is presented as a data map using a variety of graphical presentation techniques.

 “This is a very exciting opportunity to bring together Auburn’s world-class cyber lab with the battle-tested ISS software and personnel,” (Ret.) Lt. Gen. Ron Burgess, Auburn’s senior counsel for national security programs, cyber programs and military affairs, said in a statement. “We can all work together to address our nation’s insatiable thirst for intelligence and data analysis solutions, a need that was recently highlighted with the bombings in Boston.”

Along with expanding the base of data analysts and intelligence professionals trained in its software, ISS expects to use the program as a test bed for new algorithms and procedures and to garner ongoing feedback from analysts trained their use.

Bimson said small businesses specializing in research and development may also be invited to join the program to help develop new commercial and military applications for OSI. Two potential areas of focus are text analysis—using text-based sources to extract mission-relevant information—and entity resolution, which involves determining whether two or more pieces of information from different sources pertain to the same subject.

An example of the latter would be a credit check performed by more than one credit-reporting bureau, since the information gathered could all apply to the same person or to several individuals with the same name. 

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