Virtual Reality a Friend
And Foe in Terror Fight
As the technology becomes more accessible,
it makes the world both safer and more dangerous.
As virtual reality technology becomes less expensive and delivers a more realistic, immersive experience, some national security experts warn that it is only a matter of time before ter- rorists use it for recruiting,
training and plotting attacks.
The virtual reality (VR) marketplace
is exploding. Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR,
Google Cardboard, Microsoft HoloLens, One Plus and Jaunt
are competing in a rapidly growing field. Greenlight Insights,
a VR research firm, projects that the global market will reach
$7.2 billion by year’s end and nearly $75 billion by 2021.
Advances and new commercial or government endeavors in VR routinely make the news. In April, for example,
Facebook unveiled Facebook Spaces, a VR app that allows
users to design mini-me avatars and hang out with friends
in virtual locations. The friends can view the world through
Facebook 360 video, hold virtual objects and display photos
in a VR slideshow.
Also in April, industry faced a deadline for responding to
a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
request for information on VR, gaming, war gaming and
modeling and simulation. The request for information suggests that the technology could aid strategic, operational
and tactical decision making. Meanwhile, human-computer
interaction researcher Pedro Lopes, a doctoral student at
the Hasso Plattner Institute, University of Potsdam, is using
electrical muscle stimulation to allow VR users to feel solid
objects, including the weight and resistance of a virtual
object they are holding.
Furthermore, BBC News recently suggested that 2017 will
be the year of VR movie making, and Rolling Stone featured an
article about efforts at the University of Southern California’s
Institute for Creative Technologies to use the technology to
treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The institute is
funded by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and is at the
forefront of VR advances.
The lure of these varied technologies could be too much for
terrorist groups to resist. There are many plausible scenarios.
Just one: Terrorists could create a virtual building identical to
one they wish to target and use it to plan and train to carry
out an attack. “Even building models of things becomes pretty
straightforward with some of the techniques. So, for example,
as terrorists are trying to scout out and figure out how to conduct an attack, you can certainly see them wanting to use a virtual reality tool,” says Daniel Gerstein, senior policy researcher,
the RAND Corporation, a global policy think tank.
He cautions that terrorist groups could fairly easily adapt
or mimic technologies used for military or homeland security purposes. “The U.S. military has been doing live, virtual
and constructive training for many years. This type of training could be used to simulate ... the tactics terrorists intend to
use in an attack,” he contends.
Sometimes the same technology could aid the good guy and
the bad guy concurrently. Gerstein recalls that when he served
as the Homeland Security Department’s acting undersecretary
for science and technology, Customs and Border Protection
explored using avatars to conduct security interviews. Terrorists could use the same capability for the opposite purpose—
passing security interviews, he suggests. “You could easily
BY GEORGE I.
The ISIS terrorist
group has modified
a video game called
ARMA III. It allows
users to rack up
points by killing
Westerners or others
considered to be
enemies of ISIS.
Virtual reality, or VR,
is improving to the
point where terrorists
are able to exploit it.
America’s Army, a video game developed by
the U.S. Army, could be placed in a VR world and
used for terrorist training, according to one expert.