FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

If Terrorists Don't Talk, Their Laptops Will

It appears that much of the intelligence that led to the recent raising of the terror threat level in New York, Washington and Newark, NJ came not only from a terrorst arrested in Pakistan the week prior, but from his laptop. Turns out that his computer was a treasure trove of surveillance and other information that helped authorities fill in the blanks about al Qaeda's intentions.

This begs the question of what's more important for counterintelligence experts to target: terrorists, or their technology. People can bluff, play dumb or simply refuse to talk. On the other hand, laptops, PDAs, removable drives and the like can be unencrypted (many believe that the NSA has been able to decode even the highest levels of encryption for years), and once accessed, don't lie about their content. These devices also leave a trail, such as logs of downloaded information, websites visited, sent e-mail messages and addresses of devices that might contain backed-up content. A perceptive cyber investigator can learn a lot about a person from the devices he/she carries, even if that person is security-savvy and has taken great pains to cover his/her tracks.