The global arena has become a surveillance state as public spaces are littered with surveillance cameras and individuals are consumed with personal electronic devices, most of which have embedded cameras. The number of security surveillance systems has increased primarily for criminal deterrence and to assist law enforcement agencies.

Utilizing surveillance technology in the international arena for intelligence collection has significant implications for US national security and may provide increased access to denied areas. The expansion of this technology to surveillance systems and personal electronic devices has the potential to provide a treasure trove of information that may provide critical pieces to a complex intelligence puzzle.

It is already known that open source media and photo trawling of the internet can provide valuable intelligence on weapon systems. For example, Chinese military enthusiasts routinely post photos of new Chinese aircraft and armored vehicles on websites. This type of open source information has provided the United States (US) with valuable intelligence, but what if the Intelligence Community (IC) could take this technology to the next level and intercept surveillance video or manipulate personal electronic devices to collect camera photographs or digital video unbeknownst to the owner?

With simple technology, analysts can take numerous images from different sources, primarily cyber cameras, and create a mosaic of a denied area. Additionally, software exists that can remove people or objects from the image mosaic, thus providing a clear picture of the scene or the people. Further, people of interest may be identified through facial recognition software. Internet searches with facial recognition software for selected individuals can build a pattern of life and a network of associates that can then be identified and mapped. After identifying individuals with intelligence value through social media, geo-location, and social networking, intelligence officers could covertly manipulate their personal electronic devices to provide data such as imagery, voice, and location.

In the foreign intelligence realm, the ability to remotely turn on cyber cameras has great intelligence and surveillance potential. Hackers have already demonstrated this capability; however, when conducted for national security and intelligence collection, it can prove to be a valuable tool. Imagine turning on a terrorist’s cell phone camera. This data could provide real time location data as well as interior imagery of buildings that may provide Special Operations Forces (SOF) with floor plans before a raid. It also could provide access to other restricted areas, such as an adversary’s nuclear research center or defense industry. Again, by simply identifying individuals based upon their intelligence value through social media, geo-location, and social networking, their own personal electronic devices could be manipulated to provide data such as imagery, voice, and location data without the owner being knowledgeable.

Covertly manipulating cyber cameras could allow access to denied areas, most notably into buildings, where overt ISR methods cannot collect. This can also provide ground truth into foreign government buildings and research facilities. For example, confirming suspicious activity related to weaponization inside an adversary nation’s nuclear power plants or research site. Alternately, we could collect intelligence on individuals associated with locations of interest and use facial recognition to identify them. This could be done using security and maintenance cameras or open source information on the internet.

Individual social networks can also be mapped and have potential for tracking other enemies of the state. When data is transmitted through wireless and other networks it can be intercepted. Restricted sites may ban cameras; however, they may have vulnerabilities because security and maintenance cameras are connected to the cyber domain and could be exploited. Of note, the cyber infrastructure or reliance on technology by a country may limit the ability to collect intelligence. For example, North Korea, with its limited cyber connectivity, may not be ideally suited for this method of collection.

This work was done by Richard S. Ratanamalaya for the Air Command and Staff College, Air University. AFRL-0284

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
The Impact of Cyber Cameras on the Intelligence Community

(reference AFRL-0284) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

Don't have an account? Sign up here.