Analysis of Yemeni Cell Phone Metadata

This research shows the power of cell phone metadata. From an article by the author:

Yemen has experienced an array of violent incidents and political turmoil in recent years, ranging from al Qaeda militant attacks to drone strikes, Arab Spring protests, and now Saudi Arabian air strikes. Call patterns can capture political or violent activities as they unravel in real time. For instance, there was a significant increase in the number of local calls following a nighttime drone strike on Friday, October 14, 2011, in Shabwa Province, which killed Ibrahim alBanna, media chief of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, along with eight others. Several additional drone strikes are detectable through significant spikes in local call volume at the time of attack, including a May 5, 2011, strike in Jahwa that killed two brothers affiliated with al Qaeda. A May 10, 2012, attack that killed eight al Qaeda militants in Jaar and a May 25, 2010, attack in Wadi Abida that killed two militants and four to six civilians.

Because call data records are geolocated, researchers can also examine them to assess users' mobility. This can be a very useful tool to detect protests and other events that entail notable mobilization. On Friday, June 3, 2011, for example, the day President Ali Abdullah Saleh was attacked at the presidential palace in connection with the Yemeni Arab Spring, the number of people near the palace spiked around the time of the incident. Several other protest events linked to the Yemeni Arab Spring are captured by high levels of user mobility, including the string of Friday protests during 2011 when protesters would gather at Sanaa University Square and government supporters would stage their counterrallies at Sanaa's Tahrir Square.

From an interview:

So for instance, if you are interested in larger political patterns, such as who shows at a demonstration, or who takes a leadership role in a demonstration...by having this data, you know what he's like. You know where he lives. You know who he calls and who his friends are. You know if he's Shia or Sunni, depending on what holidays he makes calls. You know if he's rich or poor depending on how much phone credit he uses.

Posted on March 13, 2016 at 6:32 AM • 11 Comments

Comments

Bug lives matterMarch 13, 2016 10:05 AM

Yeah and once these dewy-eyed innocents mocked it up on faraway restless natives, the US gestapo used it all on Black Lives Matter. Now let's pull Sandra Bland's metadata to find out how killer pig Encinia stalked her.

albertMarch 13, 2016 11:24 AM

Telephone metadata is being used to survey and monitor ALL protest and occupy movements here. It doesn't help that a few ###holes* have to get violent, and bring the police down on everyone.

The time for violent protest hasn't arrived......yet.

---------------------
* No, I haven't discounted the possibility of 'engineered' incitement by state actors.
. .. . .. --- ....

hermanMarch 14, 2016 9:18 AM

Traffic analysis is an age old military trick. That is why military back-haul systems are permanently transmitting random data, so your enemy cannot learn anything that way.

GuyMarch 14, 2016 10:31 AM

I like this version better:

"So for instance, if the protestor is smart enough to not carry a cell phone or other electronic device [or cards with imbedded RFID chips] and they disguise their face Guy Fawkes style, you won't know who is at the demonstration, who the leaders are, or what they're like.

You won't know where they live. You won't know who they call or who their friends are. You'll have no information on their preferred sky fairy or socio-economic status. In fact, you'll know f**k all, particularly if they took anonymous transportation measures to the place of protest, paid cash as required, and avoided all obvious networked cameras on their way to cause havoc."

Joe KMarch 14, 2016 10:33 AM

@albert

Telephone metadata is being used to survey and monitor ALL protest and occupy movements here.

Indeed. As long as "here" is somewhere on planet earth, this is known to be true.

It doesn't help that a few ###holes* have to get violent, and bring the police down on everyone.

I will assume in good faith that you aren't here blaming contemporary dissenters of one stripe or another for the US deployment of global surveillance apparatus. Because that would be classic Orwellian misdirection.

But you do nonetheless appear to be blaming certain dissenters who use violence for something more specific: They are bringing the police "down on everyone".

Is it not a primary aim of Black Lives Matter to call attention to the fact that the police are already "down on everyone" of a certain persuasion, and have been so for quite some time? In other words, the police in the US practice state-sponsored terrorism against Black people. Extrajudicial killings, torture, world-record-setting mass incarceration, and the list goes on.

And an examination of the history of policing in the US shows that the forces of Law and Order, so-called, have been "down on everyone" (of assorted persuasions) since before they were even called police. Slave Patrols, Pinkertons, etc.

[Insert your most cherished platitude here relating study of the past to knowledge of the present.]

The time for violent protest hasn't arrived......yet.

I would like to learn more about the generalised theory of insurrectional ethics from one who plainly must understand it better than I do. Please instruct me: Precisely what conditions do license "violent protest" if in fact violent systemic repression, as one might have thought sufficient, fails to make the grade?

While I am sure you won't fail to inform the world, perhaps in this very forum, when the correct time does indeed arrive, my internet access is intermittent and I might miss the memo. Also, although I surmise that (like myself) you are located neither in Helsinki nor in Gaza, one cannot be certain that conditions "here" (wherever you are) are equivalent to conditions "here" (wherever I am).

So some general rules of thumb would be good to have.

Peter GalbavyMarch 14, 2016 11:27 AM

@Guy - in London you can no longer, effectively, pay cash for public transport. This is of course for our convenience.

albertMarch 14, 2016 12:29 PM

@Joe K,
"...I will assume in good faith that you aren't here blaming contemporary dissenters of one stripe or another for the US deployment of global surveillance apparatus. Because that would be classic Orwellian misdirection...."
AFAIK, such deployment is 'merely' an outcome of US geo-political goals, one of which is the US takeover of the Middle East (the Eurasian Pivot). The US efforts at destabilization in the ME and other places are either: 1. Codified policy, or 2. Products of raving lunatics in any current administration.
.
"...Is it not a primary aim of Black Lives Matter to call attention to the fact that the police are already "down on everyone" of a certain persuasion..."
I would assume so, but it's obviously not enough to swing the tide, is it? A large proportion of Americans are hard-core rascists; they'll never be persuaded, and likely never change. An even larger percentage agree that the situation needs to change, but are unwilling to hit the streets in protest.
.
As long as the Fascist State needs only to deal with small segments of the population in protests, little will change. It's only when a single unifying issue comes along, that protests -may- be effective. If mass protests by most of a population fail, then violence may become necessary, since it becomes the only alternative.

[I had a whole section on 'voting with your wallet' here, but it seems pointless now]

Don't, worry Joe. Things are going to get worse, then, and only then, will they get a whole lot worse.
------------------
P.S. Gaza might be a good example of 'violence required'. It's even internationally sanctioned(except for the US and its vassal states), as 'resistance to occupation'.
. .. . .. --- ....

JonMarch 14, 2016 6:27 PM

" For instance, there was a significant increase in the number of local calls following a nighttime drone strike on Friday, October 14, 2011"

And how many of them were mothers calling their children asking if they were okay after a big boom. And how many were the children calling their mothers likewise?

Look at telephone traffic after any natural disaster, and then recall that, in Yemen, Death from the Skies is sort of a natural disaster - Nobody knows they're targeted, nobody knows if they're even in the same shopping mall as someone targeted, until their entire world goes boom... But in this case, they know which country is causing it (No, Saudi Arabia did not independently develop the F-16).

And @ Mr. Peter Galbavy:

No, one can't. But for untraceable Oyster cards, just have a [front] company buy them for you. Not readily available to a garden-variety terrorist, but trivial for any international intelligence agency. Given death from the clear blue sky and how easy it is for them to flout the rules, which should we be more worried about?

J.

Joe KMarch 15, 2016 4:59 AM

@albert

I enjoyed your interesting, thoughtful reply. I will forgo a meaningful response of my own in the present thread, but only because I want to conserve my quota of marginally off-topic column inches.

Interesting times are at hand. Take care.

danielMarch 16, 2016 9:50 PM

So where do they get this metadata from?

From the US Government through NSA, from UK government through GCHQ, or from the Yememi government/operators?

A Nonny BunnyMarch 25, 2016 3:43 PM

@Guy
If people leave their cellphone at home, then they'll stand out by their deviation from their usual pattern.
It may be a bit less precise, but that can be cleared up by further analysis (the protesters will likely have been in contact in some way, or visited a website rallying them to come).

So unless you've trained a dog/monkey/drone to follow your daily routine while carrying your cellphone around, you're screwed either way.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of IBM Resilient.