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This week in open-source intelligence (OSINT) news, Bellingcat explores the challenges of OSINT in China’s locked down internet landscape. A Telegram video of a Russian base led a Ukrainian investigative company to find the location and tip of the Ukrainian military. The Cipher Brief suggests the intelligence community (IC) utilize AI, and OSINT gives us an important look at on-the-ground action in Ukraine.
This is the OSINT news of the week:
China’s OSINT defense
China's government is using various tactics to challenge OSINT collectors and information gathering via social media. China’s social media platforms, such as Weibo and WeChat, are tightly controlled by the government, and users who post anything critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) risk being censored or even arrested. As a result, social media in China is heavily influenced by the government's propaganda.
OSINT practitioners need to be aware of these limitations and biases when using social media to gather information about China. They should also be vigilant against misinformation and propaganda, and should try to corroborate any information they find online through other sources. While social media can be a useful tool for OSINT, it is important to approach it with caution, especially in authoritarian countries like China where the government has a strong grip on online discourse.
“The Citizen Lab team was previously able to create mainland China WeChat accounts by buying dual SIM cards purchased in Hong Kong that had two different phone numbers attached, a Hong Kong phone number (which begins +852) and a mainland China phone number (which begins +86). However it appears this is no longer possible as you are now required to provide your personal details to the mainland China carrier in order to use the +86 number.”— Allison Killing, Bellingcat
From Telegram to HIMARS
If “loose lips sink ships,” then social media posts are truly an operational security (OPSEC) nightmare. In Ukraine’s battle against Russia, a Ukrainian missile strike was conducted thanks to open-source data gathered via social media. Molfar, a corporate investigations company that has been behind many open-source investigations that have assisted the Ukrainian war effort, was able to target a Russian base using a Telegram post and geolocation techniques.
A video posted to Telegram where a Russian commander could be seen receiving an award revealed unique architectural characteristics of the setting. Large garage doors, a truck passing in the background and a local newscast to narrow down the region were enough for the open-source investigative company to pinpoint the base. After passing the information off to the Ukrainian army, Ukraine used HIMARS technology (provided by the U.S.) to strike.
“The weaponization of open-source Internet investigations has permanently changed modern warfare.”— Jack Hewson, PBS NewsHour
Predictive intelligence for the IC
In a new article from The Cipher Brief, the authors suggest that intelligence agencies should focus on building expertise in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing, to better understand and counter new threats. Using survey data, the research finds IC analysis to be imperative for policymakers but technological advantages are needed to create relevant intelligence reports in the future.
They recommend that the intelligence community invests in recruiting and retaining talented analysts and experts, as well as fostering a culture of innovation and continuous learning. Throughout, the article emphasizes the importance of building trust and transparency with policymakers and the public to ensure that the intelligence community's work is understood and valued.
“The two areas for potential improvement included analysis directly related to policy options and predictive intelligence. Both of these categories showed room for improvement when it comes to the quantity, quality, and usefulness of intelligence that policymakers received”— Katherine Kurata and Ylber Bajraktari, The Cipher Brief
OSINT gives perspective in Ukraine
Open-source intelligence (OSINT) experts are using various techniques to provide more accurate and timely information about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, as described by Defence Blog. By analyzing and verifying information from sources such as social media and satellite imagery, they can cut through the uncertainty of the situation and provide insights that are not always available through traditional media channels.
#UAarmy’s autumn offensive, day by day. While the "russian parliament" is intoxicated from the futile attempts at annexation, our soldiers continue moving forward.— Oleksii Reznikov (@oleksiireznikov) October 5, 2022
This is the best answer to any and all "referenda", "decrees", "treaties" and pathetic speeches. pic.twitter.com/qLCBu0Vdns
The challenges of using OSINT loom large, such as the need to verify information and the potential for disinformation. But open sources give researchers a more complete understanding of the conflict in Ukraine. When researchers share real-time information and maps, it makes it easier to quickly debunk misinformation and verify action.
“For example, the team of the well-known Ukrainian OSINT community, the DeepState UA, monitors the social networks and public channels of Russians 24/7 and brings everything together in a single information base. Their experts have created an interactive map used even by officials, including the Minister of Defense of Ukraine.”— Dylan Malyasov, Defence Blog
Every other week, we collect OSINT news from around the world. We continue to keep a close watch on Russia's war in Ukraine, especially on Twitter. We’re also gathering information on cyberthreats, federal intelligence strategies and much more. Find us on Twitter and share the OSINT news you’re keeping up with.
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