Use data aggregators to pull together info from courthouses across the country, add extensions to better utilize video and images and safely search social media
Federal and local law enforcement agencies have whole divisions dedicated to fighting cybercrime. But the internet is an extremely valuable resource for much more than gathering intelligence on cyber terrorists or investigating computer-based fraud. Social media sites, online data aggregators and special browser plugins and extensions can help law enforcement officers:
Our experts compiled a list of various tools and sites, briefly explaining their benefits and how they can help advance your investigations.
Learn more about improving law enforcement investigations, risks of online research and how to counteract them >
Depending on what information you need, there are plenty of websites that can fast-track your initial investigation. Several open-source online investigative tools specifically look at people-centered data. They work by scanning court websites and aggregating what they find.
These sites are legal and review public documents based on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). They gather information, including phone numbers, possible addresses, possible family members and known associates. And they save time, so you don't have to visit individual court websites.
What’s also nice about these tools is you don’t have to create a persona — you can access them directly and pull down your first level of information with little risk.
Cyber Background Checks provides access to billions of public records about millions of adults throughout the U.S. It's sorted to isolate the information you need and organize it into a comprehensive, easy-to-interpret summary. You can find people and where they live by searching their names, discover who lives at a particular address, see who owns an email address and look up unknown phone numbers.
FamilyTreeNow is a free genealogy site, where you can search for family members, associates, addresses and phone numbers of any individual.
Spokeo has organized over 12 billion records from thousands of data sources into easy-to-understand reports that include available contact info, location history, photos, social media accounts, family members, court records, work information and much more.
OSINT Techniques provides numerous free open-source resources for researching and analyzing data. Although the information on the website can be used for a variety of purposes, it would be most helpful to investigative roles such as analysts and researchers.
Intelius provides public data about people and their connections to others. Investigators can check criminal records, background checks, property data and more.
Accurint is part of LexisNexis and serves as the most widely accepted locate-and-research tool available to government, law enforcement and commercial customers. Its proprietary data-linking technology returns search results in seconds to the user's desktop.
Pipl is the essential investigative tool used by insurance and financial institutions, government agencies and media companies. It speeds your investigation tasks by helping quickly locate persons of interest, uncover connections between people, addresses, phones and social handles, and even determine the credibility of sources, witnesses and suspects.
Exif Viewer is a simple tool to read the EXIF data from your JPG images. There's lots of helpful information held in image files: Some photos have GPS data and others contain the camera's shutter count, which helps identify the type of camera used to take the image. This utility lets you open a JPG image from your computer or a URL to view its EXIF data. You can also right-click on a JPG image in a browser and select “EXIF Image Info” from the context menu.
For online investigators, social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or TikTok could be a treasure trove of information. But just like traditional detectives, investigators must be extra careful to maintain anonymity and keep their identity and intent hidden while researching social media. Not only could a clumsy move spook the bad guys into going deeper undercover, it could also trigger retaliation (cyber or material), putting law enforcement agents at risk.
Read more: What VPNs and Incognito Mode still give away in your online identity >
Several specialized tools were developed specifically to help online investigators browse social media sites without risk. They can be a helpful addition to investigators’ portfolios when following suspects and persons of interest on social media platforms.
Social Searcher is a real-time social media monitoring engine. It allows you to search for users, keywords, and trends across 11 different social media platforms. It searches for content in social networks in real-time and provides deep analytics data. Users can search without logging in for publicly posted information on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit, Flickr, Dailymotion, and Vimeo. Free users can also save their searches and set up email alerts. Premium features include saving social mentions history, exporting data, API integration, advanced analytics, and immediate email notifications.
Inflact is a multi-purpose service, including an excellent Instagram search tool. Influencers, bloggers and regular users can choose tools based on their needs. It offers free and paid services for building a social media audience, managing content and communicating with clients. And it’s great for investigators, too!
Twitter Advanced Search is available when you're logged into twitter.com. It allows you to tailor search results to specific date ranges and people. You can also search words, phrases and hashtags; what's trending in particular locations; and then see profiles posting on the topic.
TikTok has taken off in the last couple of years, and while it’s generally just good fun and a lucrative platform for some folks to make money, TikTok is also used by criminal organizations as a platform for their propaganda, drug sales and a way to connect with potential victims. Searching TikTok is very straightforward: if you're looking for a specific profile, use TikTok.com/@ and then a username. If you're looking at a particular hashtag, enter TikTok.com/tag/ and then the keywords or phrases you're searching for. Searches on TikTok don’t require a login.
Social Bearing is an open search and statistics tool. It can analyze Twitter mentions, find top tweets, hashtags, trends or Twitter conversations; show most popular tweets containing specific pictures or links; uncover facts; find geolocated tweets; and analyze any user’s timeline.
These days, it’s easy to find anyone or anything online. That’s important to remember in terms of what you can find out about your suspects and what they can find out about you. Many sites that offer you information on people and organizations are known to sell registration information, which of course is not desirable for law enforcement investigators.
Maintaining anonymity is essential for any online investigation. While performing your research on the web, law enforcement professionals need to control what investigative subjects can learn about them by what their browser discloses (hint: it’s a lot).
Read more: What attributes are disclosed via your browser and device? >
Managing attribution is the definitive way to properly disguise your identity and intent — without creating a false persona, relying on a “dirty” network or using a burner device. By controlling the details of your digital fingerprint, you can blend in with the crowd and perform your investigation without tipping off your suspect or blowing the case.
To learn more about Authentic8’s solution for online law enforcement investigation, Silo for Research, request a demo here.
Learn best practices for online research, including how to leverage social media, the dark web, conceal your identity and protect your agency
Without the ability to control details of your digital fingerprint, investigative targets could uncover your identity and intent — and spoil your investigation or put you at personal risk.
How law enforcement can stay safe in online investigations on the surface and dark web, including social media sites.