How big data analytics helped decode the Panama Papers

Big Data

At 2.6TB, the Panama Papersis by far the biggist data leak to happen this decade and, it is claimed, the biggest cache of data ever handed over to journalists.

The 11.5 million documents handed over to Sddeutsche Zeitung and theInternational Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) comprised nearly five million emails, three million database files, two million PDFs, one million images, 320,166 text documents and 2,242 other unclassified files.

So how exactly did journalists sift through this huge amount of data?

The sheer variety and volume of this data rendered manually going through it all was impractical, if not impossible, as was the use of traditional analytics and search software.

Consequently, the ICIJ called in big data analytics firm Nuix to help make sense of the vast amount of information it had received.

"Nuix is a large-scale investigation platform, which allows you to index vast amounts of data very, very quickly," Carl Barron, Nuix's senior solutions consultant who worked with the ICIJ to sort through the files, toldIT Pro.

"We take in lots of different sorts of information - it could be email, databases, images, PDFs, all those different file formats - and extract all of the text and all of the metadata (information about the file itself). Once it has been indexed we can do some great analytical things, such as bringing out people's names or credit card information if necessary. We can also see who is connected to whom, so if we find a person's name in an email, maybe we want to find that person's name in other documentation and other things like that as well," Barron explained.

Nuix and the ICIJ have been working together for over four years, but this is the largest data analysis that has ever been done before on leaked information - 10 times that seen in the Offshore Leaks documents in 2013.

However, for Nuix's software this wasn't an extraordinary volume of data, being described by Barron as "quite routine".

The information released in the Panama Papers has discovered alleged cases of money laundering, involvement with organised crime, bribery and corruption at the highest levels of global government.

While Sddeutsche Zeitung has only gone so far as to say it received the information from an anonymous source, Mossack Fonseca, the subject of the leak, has claimed the data was extracted through a hack on its email servers.

Jane McCallion
Deputy Editor

Jane McCallion is ITPro's deputy editor, specializing in cloud computing, cyber security, data centers and enterprise IT infrastructure. Before becoming Deputy Editor, she held the role of Features Editor, managing a pool of freelance and internal writers, while continuing to specialise in enterprise IT infrastructure, and business strategy.

Prior to joining ITPro, Jane was a freelance business journalist writing as both Jane McCallion and Jane Bordenave for titles such as European CEO, World Finance, and Business Excellence Magazine.