January 3, 2023
Organizations in the public and private sector continue to utilize open-source intelligence (OSINT) for investigations and community safety. With the increase in apps and online sites, organizations will continue to invest in tools that allow them to mine the surface, deep and dark web for investigative insights. However, there are a host of trends that will have an impact on how organizations use OSINT to investigate and respond to illicit activities over the next 12 – 24 months. Here is our take on the next year:
- Enhancement and Additions of Real Time Crime Centers. The mission of a Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) is to provide a law enforcement agency with the ability to capitalize on a wide and expanding range of technologies for efficient and effective policing. More regional police and sheriff departments are creating RTCCs to share resources across jurisdictions due to staffing and budget constraints. Some cities at the forefront of establishing RTCCs include Albuquerque, NM Police Department, Austin, TX Police Department , Fresno, CA Police Department, Memphis, TN Police Department, and New York, NY Police Department, to name a few. The increasingly vast amount of data, information, and intelligence can be difficult to manage without dedicated, trained personnel and the right tools. RTCCs bring personnel, technology and solutions together to analyze and investigate regional crimes trends and series to develop leads and share actionable information with agencies for quick response.
- Case Management and Deconfliction. Deconfliction plays an important role in investigations as analysts and investigators develop leads from different systems and across agencies, especially at RTCCs. Investigators must be able to create associations between entities, relate cases to one another, and upload a variety of different file formats to keep everything in one place and make it easier to manage their case without conflict from others outside of the agency or RTCC. From an OSINT perspective, they must track online input data and know who created case records, and who has updated the records. As OSINT data is used by an increasing number of analysts and investigators in organizations, deconfliction tools will grow in necessity to ensure they are not duplicating efforts or causing issues that could impact the investigation or possible prosecution.
- Getting Intelligence into the Field. There will continue to be a need for mobile apps so intelligence can be shard directly to the police officers in the field. Across the nation we are seeing the need for instant intelligence as events unfold. An RTCC can immediately assist officers and detectives who need information in real time as they respond to a scene or follow a suspect. As information sharing technology continues to evolve and grow, we can expect to see OSINT information shared more broadly with those responding and handling major events.
- Rising Use of Cryptocurrency. With more institutions and people turning to cryptocurrency for financial transactions and investments, there is a growing need for analytical capabilities to detect and analyze fraud and nefarious activity. As more people invest in crypto, expect to see it used more often to hide illicit activity and payments. Law enforcement and financial institutions will need to invest in tools that allow for a more complete analysis of activity related to crypto IDs and wallets.
- Fringe Groups and Election Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, there was a proliferation of alternative online media sites that helped foster false and misleading information. Fringe groups may ramp up activities and become even more mainstream as the nation gears up for the 2024 elections. These groups will surely continue to use online media to communicate with like-minded groups as well as platforms to communicate. At the same time, voter identities have now become a tradable commodity on the dark web. Investigators will be tasked with monitoring, tracking and mitigating risk to the election process and one important tool will be automated OSINT technology.
- The Shift from Telegram to the Dark Web. Telegram continues to be a source of OSINT for investigators. However, Telegram channels are becoming like an online marketplace used by threat actors to buy and sell malware exploits and hacking techniques. For example, in Israel, the founder of an online drug distribution network, known as Telegrass, who used encrypted Telegram channels, was recently released to house arrest, after serving a three-year prison term. Meanwhile, members of a criminal gang in Argentina were recently arrested for using Telegram to sell designer drugs, as well as home-grown cannabis. As channels are shut down and online tactics shift, expect to see more of this activity migrate to the dark web.
- Online Media Platform Upheaval. Online media sites are downsizing staff, which may affect how the platforms are managed and used. It remains to be seen what type of impact shifts and changes at online media companies will have on the open-source intelligence discipline.
- Increase in Social Audio. There is a shift from online media to social audio platforms such as Clubhouse. Clubhouse made its debut in March of 2020 as a channel for folks to speak their mind, gaining immediate popularity. During the COVID pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people shifted to the new audio-based social channel for real-time conversations. Now, there are more than 10 alternatives to Clubhouse for a variety of platforms. These types of sound platforms are already being used for nefarious purposes. We expect to see further exploitation of these platforms for planning and discussion of illicit activity as users continue to move away from more traditional platforms.
- Security and Privacy. Expect more government scrutiny of online media platforms. Government agencies will begin ramping up campaigns to limit disinformation ahead of the 2024 Presidential election across online media. To meet privacy and other compliance issues—whether they are corporate, law enforcement, government, intelligence, or military – platforms must minimize the amount of false information shared.
- Combatting AI Bias. There is a big push within government for ethical AI and the elimination of biases. Taking an open and collaborative approach to data science can pave the way for a fairer and more equitable world by reducing bias in AI. The focus going forward will be to determine what are the biases and then develop a strategy to move away from built-in bias.
It was difficult to narrow our list of predictions to 10 given the current environment both domestically and globally. That said, 2023 is certain to be a big year for OSINT as organizations from law enforcement to corporate security look to adopt emerging capabilities to better fight crime, stop threats and keep communities safe.