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Stay up-to-date with the latest OSINT news from around the world.

Around the world, open source intelligence (OSINT) is influencing diplomacy, keeping tabs on big tech and assisting law enforcement. Police are employing open source intelligence to develop more efficient investigative practices. It’s helping United States officials track China’s naval development on warships, being proposed as a counter-disinformation strategy to tech giants and understanding the closure of a dark web drug market.

OSINT opportunities are being overlooked

OSINT can be a powerful tool in everything from counterterrorism efforts to combatting disinformation. But according to the former U.K. Police Chief Sir Mark Rowley, OSINT is often overlooked in the family of intelligence tools. The sheer amount of information freely available on the internet is often underestimated for how it can play a role in law enforcement.

Some misconceptions prevent departments from developing programs, due to the association that collecting intelligence may be akin to hacking somehow. There are also technology and bureaucratic barriers to adopting an OSINT practice. However, OSINT as an investigative strategy could help investigators quickly gather key information to solve crimes.

“The mapping of terrorist networks on social media — especially the more grassroots right-wing extremist groups that are popping up on platforms like Parler — is a highly effective means of identifying the individuals behind these crimes.”

- Sir Mark Rowley, Police Oracle

Satellite imagery reveals military developments in China

China is in the process of developing a massive aircraft carrier. The secret naval expansion had been previously unseen, but intelligence officials now have snapshots of the carrier thanks to synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites owned by Capella Space. The satellites have the ability to see through clouds and at night.

Officials noted a submarine previously being developed was absent from the shipyard. This has intelligence officials on the look out for whether it may be operational and soon deployed. The satellite images have allowed the U.S. military to stay up-to-date on China’s growing naval efforts.

“The new aircraft carriers represent a significant increase in capabilities for the Chinese Navy. And also part of their emergence as a true blue-water force.”

- H.I. Sutton, Naval New

OSINT could play a role in defeating disinformation on social media

Lawfare Blog is calling for a full-scale research operation into the extent of disinformation on social media and those tech giant’s efforts to combat it. The plea is in response to a Wall Street Journal report on the disinformation campaigns on Facebook and revelations of the company’s knowledge of issues (and unwillingness to address them). The disinformation campaigns on social media, once considered a minor annoyance, are now affecting public health and threatening U.S. democracy. 

The report reviews internal documents which revealed inconsistencies within the company, including exemptions from their own rules for VIPs. The rules, something Mark Zuckerberg has congressionally testified to being equally applied across the platform, are exempted from millions of high-profile users like politicians, athletes and celebrities. The response Lawfare proposes would utilize open source intelligence to keep checks on Facebook and Instagram, their users and how their rules are applied.

“It’s not like the stakes are low. As America’s deeply challenged vaccination effort so strikingly suggests, misleading facts, conspiracy theories and political disinformation circulating online could pose a clear and present danger to democratic society.”

- Jacob T. Rob and Jacob N. Shapiro, Lawfare

White House Market’s unexpected closure

White House Market was a darknet market available through I2P and Tor. The popular illicit drug market unexpectedly closed on October 1, mystifying its nearly 900,000 users. The message left on the homepage simply stated they “met their goal,” Wired reports. The market was known for its advanced security expectations and customer service for drug buyers.

The sudden closure leaves not only criminal actors scratching their heads but probably many counter-narcotic investigators as well. Open markets where criminal activity takes place also serve as great resources for investigations, some of which may be left without leads or traces of their subjects due to this closure. News about one such operation, Operation Dark HuntTor, was released shortly after the site shuttered. The closure will no doubt lead to the growth of some of White House Market’s competitors. It’s unclear whether those sites will uphold the standards of customer service or the oddly ethical omission of certain goods (such as child pornography, fentanyl and even fake COVID cards, et al.)

“The platform founders implemented arguably the most stringent user security protocols of all darknet markets, or DNMs, in existence today. They popularized the use of two-factor authentication and PGP encryption for all communications between buyers and sellers.”

- Mohar Chatterjee, Wired

OSINT is vital in protecting national security, both internationally and domestically. The implications of China’s naval developments and the fight against misinformation both rely on OSINT. Whether it's protecting democracy or bettering public health, social media, tech and freely available information are playing a big role. Calls to develop greater programs both in law enforcement and among tech watchdogs are citing OSINT as a key strategy in their efforts.

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


About the Author

Abel Vandegrift
Abel Vandegrift
Washington, D.C.

As Director of Government Strategy at Authentic8, Abel advises the federal business team on policy development and budget trends to identify growth opportunities and shape customer engagement.

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