Finding Needles in a Haystack
For law enforcement officials, names like Kaczyniski and Moussaoui can be a nightmare. Because of their complexity, the Unabomber's and the alleged 20th hijacker's names are often misspelled, making database searches difficult. If a "y" instead of an "i" at the end of either name was entered into a database, a search of the properly spelled name could come up empty. The same goes for license plates numbers, addresses and phone numbers.
David Wheeler learned this the hard way. After the police were unable to find his father's murderer, Wheeler began his own investigation, pouring through dozens of documents and databases. As he did, Wheeler, who at the time was working on a post-graduate degree in physics, found holes in the information -- holes that software could fill.
So he wrote codes that broke data into blocks -- or elements -- as opposed to whole entities. A database search for Kacyniski or Kacyinsty with Wheeler's software, for example, would use the name's elements to retrieve the Unabomber's information. But Wheeler went even further, writing codes that analyzed and organized information scattered across several databases.
In the end, Wheeler found his father's killer, as well as a company, Infoglide Software.
In 2005, Infoglide is projected to do around $16 million and turn its first profit since inception in 1996, says CEO Mike Schultz. Much of Infoglide's business comes from the Department of Homeland Security -- Infoglide software screens every airplane passenger in the United States, running the persons name through terrorist watch lists. "Our software determines if you get on an airplane or not, says Schultz.
Infoglide has found commercial applications for its software, as well. In the last few months, a top-10-retailer began beta-testing Infoglide software in the hopes of reducing losses from theft. If a person tries returning an item without a receipt, for example, the store will run the person's name through Infoglide's program to assess the "risk" of theft. A good example of a "risk," says Schultz, is when the person returning the item has the same address as the person working in the shipping department -- a likely sign that the two are in cahoots.
Like most software applications, Infoglide has proliferated for mainly one reason: cheap hardware. A retailer, for example, can afford Infoglide software because hardware costs half of what it did two years ago, and a fraction of what it did a decade ago, says Schultz.