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The world continues to closely follow the Russian-Ukrainian situation on the ground. Open-source intelligence (OSINT) researchers are tracking not just the growing possibility of kinetic conflict, but the information operations actively underway to support the military build-up. We cover Russia’s cyber and information warfare operations against Ukraine and how they are playing a role in the changing situation.

OSINT researchers are also taking note of all the possibilities of the metaverse as Facebook (or Meta as the company is now named) doubles down on its investment in virtual reality. The increased potential for social engagement and education could also be exploited by extremists and terrorist groups.

Lastly, the teenager tracking Elon Musk’s private jet with open-source data won’t be cheap to pay off. Read the latest in OSINT news below.

The metaverse may create new opportunities for extremists

Terrorism researchers at the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology and Education Center in Omaha, Nebraska are tracking potential malevolent uses of the metaverse and how it can be used for recruitment and coordination of terror efforts, as well as to find new targets for exploitation.

The ability to create virtual meetups or artificial intelligence simulations means recruitment for extremism could be moved beyond watching a video to something much more effective. Plots to commit real-world violence could also be rehearsed or simulated. More virtual events could also present more targets for extremist actors. Elson of Nextgov implores researchers to think as creatively about the metaverse as extremists are likely to.


“Although the arrival of a full-fledged metaverse is still some years in the future, the potential threats posed by the metaverse require attention today from a diverse range of people and organizations, including academic researchers, those developing the metaverse and those tasked with protecting society.”

— Joel S. Elson, Nextgov

Elon Musk vs. teenage researcher

A teenager has been tracking and tweeting out the whereabouts of Elon Musk’s private jet. Jack Sweeney, a 19-year-old student at the University of Central Florida, has been tracking Elon Musk’s jet via publicly available ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) data. The billionaire CEO purportedly offered Sweeney $5,000 to take down the account in a private DM (direct message) on the site.

ADS-B enables air traffic control surveillance by the Federal Aviation Administration. The ADS-B Exchange provides open-source unfiltered flight data. Unfortunately for billionaires hoping to fly discreetly on private jets, clever researchers can determine and disclose their whereabouts. Sweeney is said to have rejected the $5,000 offer and requested $50,000 instead. For now, the account is still actively posting Musk’s jet’s whereabouts.


“When Sweeney told Musk where he was aggregating the data from, Musk responded, ‘Air traffic control is so primitive,’ Protocol reported.”

— Isobel Asher Hamilton, Business Insider

The latest on Russia’s escalations

Russia’s escalated rhetoric and scaling up of military personnel on its border with Ukraine has caught the attention of international headlines as of late. Researchers at the Atlantic Council have been tracking the changing situation in Russia and Ukraine and the disinformation campaigns they are employing to support its efforts.

Numerous reports have shown tanks and other military assets on the move across Russia to its western border. However, there have been developments in the political situation beyond “boots on the ground.” The Russian Communist Party has made threats to recognize Donetsk and Luhansk within Ukraine as independent states to sow division to the democratic union. Multiple government ministries in Ukraine were targeted on January 14, 2022, in a cyberattack, suspected to have been committed by Russia. Each development in the continued situation is being monitored by the Atlantic Council and other national security think tanks. 

“This past weekend, Russian military equipment from the Eastern Military District continued its steady flow into Belarus. A majority of the units arriving in Ukraine appeared to unload at a cluster of towns in Gomel Oblast, north of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.”

— The Digital Forensic Research Lab, Atlantic Council

The campaign for cultural heritage in Ukraine

Russia has been working to sow political and cultural discord in Ukraine long before videos of moving tanks were shared widely online. Russia’s Information Operations (IO) efforts have included painting Ukrainians as neo-nazis and positioning parts of Ukraine as being historically Russian. The efforts aim to raise conflicting feelings on cultural heritage among Ukranians. Russian-backed proxies and direct Russian sponsorship has led to the construction of monuments all over Ukraine meant to further this tension.

These constructions of monuments (or refurbishing existing ones) are notable for their ability to give a physical embodiment of the narrative being pushed by Russia. Open source researchers are tracking where the monuments are constructed, what theme they possess, the population density of the area and other relevant data to help tell an on-the-ground story of Russian cultural influence in Ukraine.

“As a methodological approach, collecting data on every monument constructed also provides a fuller picture of the information and narratives disseminated among civil society, and provides a potential model for collection as an element of digital civil reconnaissance by CA officers.”

— Damian Koropeckyj, Small Wars Journal

Increasing connectivity in the world is leading to more transparency in many intelligence gathering industries. It also paves the way for misinformation and misinterpreted data, especially by untrained counterparts in the citizen world. It is clear from the emergence of social media videos of Russian military movements that OSINT will continue to play an outsized role in international diplomacy.

To keep up to date on the latest OSINT and cybersecurity news, visit the Authentic8 blog.  

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