For-Profit Spies: Booz Allen Hamilton

What is Booz Allen Hamilton?

Booz Allen Hamilton, founded in 1914, by Edwin G. Booz, James L. Allen and Carl L. Hamilton is a management consulting firm headquartered in Tysons Corner, Virginia, with 80 other branches throughout the United States. A partner at the forefront of global cyber security, it specializes and actively engages in the commercial sector as well, partnering with multi-national companies in a diverse range of fields, from energy to financial, to health, and high-tech manufacturing. Moreover, it is affiliated with the US Government as contractors aiding with the processing of big data that civilian, defense, and intelligence agencies collect.

As previously mentioned, Booz Allen Hamilton is associated with private businesses; however, the focus of this project will address its affiliation with the US government, more specifically, the NSA. Cooperation with federal agencies in the US has been facilitated by the acquisition of several contracts by Booz Allen. This has given the company rapid access to a wide range of consulting services, including management, organizational, telecommunications, and information technology.

Some very contentious debate and controversy has surrounded this firm, especially in 2013, when one of its private contractors, Edward Snowden, leaked classified information about a program nicknamed “PRISM”, designed as a surveillance infrastructure allegedly intended to protect against terrorist threats. Debate ensued on the basis of the US government sacrificing citizen’s privacy in return for what it claimed was an attempt to safeguard the general public.

How Does BAH use Big Data?

As a consulting company, it is quite clear how BAH utilizes big data. Whether it is working for a multinational company, domestic company, or even the NSA, its main focus is collecting information-rich data as well as beneficial data.

The utilization of big data by Booz Allen Hamilton comprises a wide range of practical approaches. They provide intelligence on how to utilize big data in the field of health management, using real life satellite images to extract information, and many others. The consulting firm collaborates with several other tech companies in order to broaden their target market, audience and influence. The development of mobile applications, as well as easily accessible user interfaces in conjunction with these powerful tools divulges the full extent of effectiveness and control these programs can have on one’s daily life. This company is an excellent medium through which we can observe the results of meticulous collection and analysis of big data. We will be discussing two different programs, EpiPulse and Pixelate, to further explain how BAH utilizes big data.

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  1. EpiPulse

EpiPulse is a data science and development stack. The so called EpiPulse ‘pipeline’ is a large-scale infrastructure that allows for simultaneous parallel processing to thousands of machines. This information-oriented stack is designed to store, process, analyze, aggregate, visualize and deliver data, while allowing direct access to all of these features to developers, clients and technologies through application programming (API) and user interface (UI).

This program is capable of ingesting any data format, be that structured or not. Booz Allen helps with gathering information from novel data sources by providing it for the client in a research-ready format. There exists a mechanized process of filtering, where data can be automatically scrapped in real time. A system is set up in order to preserve the data sets. This program uses cloud-based data servers located in the United States, as well as some European countries. All such servers have redundant backups.

The program is then designed to parse the data, once it has based the initial filters. EpiPulse possesses an extensive library of natural language processing and machine learning apps. Some of the most commonly used apps they utilize are inferential geo-tagging, semantic language tool, identifying duplicates, stripping personally identifiable information, detecting sentiment, coding to major ontologies. Almost all of these tools are available in several dozen languages. EpiPulse can then implement their client’s running codes and optimize it for the data environment. This data can then be returned in a medium that can be visualized. EpiPulse also provides custom interfaces, for example, mobile-optimized ones. Data is heavily secured, and their website mentions validated options specific to the industry of choice. Click-by-click audit trails, support for litigation holds, these are only some of the services that EpiPulse supplies in order to minimize potential liabilities. In case the information being processed is highly sensitive, they can blind the apps and make them ‘zero-knowledge’ meaning their machines process data in temporary memory, thereby rendering it inaccessible to any human.

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  1. Pixelate

Pixelate is a next-generation image recognition software, that utilizes the latest advances in machine learning and automated vision. Pixelate is a type of software that has been designed to be self-sufficient. It has the capability to learn how to identify the content of images on its own, rather than having analysts do manual work to corroborate the aforementioned. The program allows analysts to interject only when the level of insight has become truly complex, and it facilitates the search for vast amounts of overhead imagery, tracking changes and identifying previously unknown trends.

Pixelate could, for example, be used to detect buildups of military assets along borders, or monitor significant activity at naval bases. Pixelate shifts through all available satellite imagery to search for anomalies. This creates vast opportunities for use and application for governments and businesses alike. In the oil and gas industry, for example, Pixelate would monitor changes in facilities, reserves and attempt to detect suspicious activities near pipelines or the like.  The unparalleled power of Pixelate resides in a simple concept. While most programs can be taught what the individual features of an image look like, they cannot figure out individually how the complete picture looks like. Booz Allen’s Pixelate uses numerous pictures of the same image/view and subsequently uses a technique called deep learning to figure out what the image looks like, on its own. The program provides itself with all the necessary tools for recognition and it thus possesses a speed and accuracy that are otherwise impossible with ordinary image recognition.

These are only some of the companies and contractors with which Booz Allen cooperates and provides big data analysis strategies. Among many other pursuits this company follows, they are involved in military security, surveillance and other public target projects. It would be safe to conclude that these such projects operate under high levels of clearance and security, and therefore, not a lot could be researched about to their mechanisms and policies.

Although Booz Allen Hamilton’s work is not only limited to EpiPulse and Pixelate, these two programs can be used to illustrate how it utilizes big data in its pursuit of working with the NSA. To summarize, EpiPulse can be used to process any kind of personal information of a person being investigated, while Pixelate should be able to detect threats to a country’s security through its image processing technique.

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SWOT Analysis

Strengths

BAH, as a private contractor, is able to more effectively recruit employees than public sector organizations. At the same time, the firm maintains strong government connections with a proven track record of winning government contracts. By analyzing all the big data collected through the intricate technological measures, Booz Allen Hamilton and the NSA hope that they would successfully prevent any terrorist attacks. On a more basic level, they aspire to apprehend terrorists before they even consider making a move. The use of big data in this case would be enough reasoning since it is used to enhance the national security of the US. Reinforcing the effectiveness of these efforts is a large scale corporate structure able to facilitate a variety of services and resources.

Weaknesses

The digital security infrastructure developed by the United States government is massive, collecting millions of gigabytes of data on US citizens. Processing this vast trove of information is incredibly challenging and requires human analysis. Post-9/11, the US Government faced a windfall in data analysts, forcing them to turn to companies like Booz Allen Hamilton to fill this void with contract labor.

The downside of being reliant almost entirely on governments climate is that the current political climate often effects the amount of government spending on national defense and security. This means that Booz Allen Hamilton has a huge incentive to influence policy to facilitate favorable federal defense budgets.

Opportunities

Despite some weaknesses, BAH can fill a staff windfall for security in federal government. BAH can help the government with all consulting matters which it would not be able to do otherwise. This is beneficial because it is time efficient and it hires the most talented technology technicians available. At the same time, more and more governments are researching and instituting new forms of technology and scalability of existing surveillance. On a global scale, there is a push for large scale data collection within nations and on an international level. The amount of funding for these efforts are is immense, the United States military budget alone is over half a trillion dollars.

Threats

The biggest threat to Booze Allen Hamilton’s activities is human error and abuse of public data. This could lead to a large scale public outcry at mass surveillance data collection programs. There is also the potential that Booz Allen Hamilton’s computer infrastructure is hacked.

Additionally, human data analysis is an essential component of Big Data. However, it is also the source of a number of issues. The first and most relevant is the exposure to classified information. This proved to be serious problem for BAH, when one of their contractors, as mentioned earlier, leaked information on NSA’s surveillance programs to the press. This led to an immediate financial and political fallout. Within the first few days of the leak, BAH’s stock price dropped significantly. The fallout from the leak information climaxed when the US government voted to curtail use of mass data collection. This significantly impacted a large source of income for BAH.

Another threats that BAH faces is the scale of the data available for analysis. While the information is easily collected through traditional surveillance methods, identifying potential security threats proves to be a demanding task. The information is often filtered looking for specific phrases or applied to particular cases, but as a preventive measure, there was very limited success for the application of big data on national security threats.

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Conclusion

As was illustrated by this case study, big data can be used by different consultant companies. Specifically, Booz Allen Hamilton uses big data, not only for private cases, but also for governmental ones. After applying a SWOT analysis to BAH, one can further understand how that company works and what kind of future it holds.

 

References

What you need to know about Booz Allen Hamilton. (n.d.). Retrieved October 06, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2013/06/10/edward-snowden-and-the-nsa-leaks-what-you-need-to-know-about-booz-allen-hamilton/

 

The outsourcing of U.S. intelligence raises risks among the benefits. (n.d.). Retrieved October 06, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/the-outsourcing-of-us-intelligence-raises-risks-among-the-benefits/2013/06/09/eba2d314-d14c-11e2-9f1a-1a7cdee20287_story.html?tid=a_inl

 

Booz Allen, the World’s Most Profitable Spy Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-06-20/booz-allen-the-worlds-most-profitable-spy-organization

 

King, R. (2014). Ex-NSA Chief Details Snowden’s Hiring at Agency, Booz Allen. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304626804579363651571199832

 

Chatterjee, P. (2013). Investigate Booz Allen Hamilton, not Edward Snowden | Pratap Chatterjee. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/14/edward-snowden-investigate-booz-allen

 

Our Systems Delivery Impact. (n.d.). Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://www.boozallen.com/

 

 

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