Winter is a great time to curl up with a good book. Why not make your next read an asset to your research?
Reading for pleasure and reading for work can usually be illustrated in a Venn diagram as two fully separate circles. We found the rare overlap of books that can be read for your open-source intelligence (OSINT) research without putting you to sleep. The following are five non-textbook nonfiction books to pick up to both entertain and inform you.
From the founder of Bellingcat’s tell-all background of how the investigative research firm got its start, to the zero-day market’s real-world effect on researchers, national security, and the power grid, these are the books with tidbits every analyst, researcher and SOC manager should know.
1. “We Are Bellingcat: Global Crime, Online Sleuths, and the Bold Future of News” by Eliot Higgins
The story behind one of the most respected firms in investigative journalism and open-source research is not only an important book for researchers, but a fascinating one. The upstart of Bellingcat follows founder Eliot Higgins from his early lone days conducting geospatial intelligence analysis in his bathrobe, to the archival efforts of Bellingcat in the recent invasion of Ukraine.
The book includes some of the group’s most notable investigations, including in Libya, Syria, Ukraine and the United States, plus the tools and tactics they used. On the pages, Higgins reveals his and Bellingcat’s quest to define the ethics of OSINT and how it impacts the organization’s workflow. “We Are Bellingcat” is a great book for researchers to pick up, but with the power to appeal more broadly, it could easily hook even your most mildly OSINT-curious friends.
2. “Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption” by Ben Mezrich
This telling by Ben Mezrich, author of “The Social Network”, follows Winklevoss twins, best known for their antagonistic relationship with Mark Zuckerberg over the inception of Facebook. “Bitcoin Billionaires” follows them in their quest to invest somewhere other than Silicon Valley (where they ran into many closed doors) which eventually leads them to be early investors in bitcoin. It uses dramatic scenes and high-profile characters to give the reader a short history.
The blockchain once hailed as “the future of money” was praised in its heyday by privacy advocates and gave rise to darknet marketplaces like “The Silk Road.” Mezrich follows the journeys of the notoriously volatile cryptocurrency through its ups and downs, analyzing aspects from digital privacy to the carbon footprint of endless computing.
3. “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
When Chris Paul of RAND Corporation appeared on NeedleStack, he recommended “Thinking Fast and Slow” to help people understand our vulnerabilities to disinformation. The two systems of thinking Kahneman outlines in the book — one being a sort of autopilot mode and the other being a critical, highly aware one — helps explain how and when we may fall prey to being manipulated.
Everyone is capable of being intensely critical and aware in their thinking, but it’s an exhausting state to be in. It’s when we switch off to system one, the autopilot mode, that we’re more vulnerable to disinformation. It also happens to often be when we’re most relaxed and comfortable, such as scrolling through our feeds at the end of a long day. For a better understanding of how we can be vulnerable from a social psychology point of view, Paul recommends reading Kahneman’s acclaimed book.
4. “The Darkest Web: Drugs, Death and Destroyed Lives… the Inside Story of the Internet’s Evil Twin” by Eileen Ormsby
Eileen Ormsby has interviewed the founder of the Silk Road and chatted with purported hitmen, all in a quest to research the dark underbelly of the internet. Her book “The Darkest Web” takes readers on a journey from the surface to the dark as she explores the surprisingly philosophical elements of drug marketplaces, the (sometimes) empty threats of murder-for-hire sites and the legitimate uses of the dark web to help citizens divert censorship laws in authoritarian regimes.
For a more nuanced understanding of how the web beneath the surface works, investigative journalist Ormsby compiles years of research to give readers a rare glimpse into an area of the internet few even venture.
5. “This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends” by Nicole Perloth
This book could have the alternative title “Why You Need Remote Browsing Isolation” (RBI). The story of the underground zero-day market is a fraught modern history of how holes in software development can create vulnerabilities for nations, industries and individuals alike. “This is How They Tell Me the World Ends” follows author and digital espionage reporter for the New York Times, Nicole Perloth as she follows the market’s origin from rumor to its modern day impacts.
While much of the research in the book isn’t based on open sources (only some), it serves as a key reminder for why open-source investigators need protection when conducting OSINT online.
Reading for pleasure and reading for work don’t have to be mutually exclusive. These five nonfiction books can help inform your research while following a narrative look at different aspects of online research.
Cryptocurrency Dark web research OSINT research Social media