IACA Conference 2022: Reflections From a Former Intelligence Analyst

September 20, 2022

The 2022 International Association of Crime Analysts Conference (IACA) held in Chicago from August 22-26 provided a platform for analysts from around the world to make valuable connections. Attendees discussed the evolution of policing and crime analysis, and learned about the latest technologies available to help strengthen their analysis to support investigations. For Cobwebs Technologies it was an excellent opportunity to emphasize that open-source intelligence (OSINT) should be an integral part of the analytical and investigative toolkit.

Here are some top takeaways from this year’s conference.

The IACA is a Growing Community

Getting its start in 1990, the IACA formed to “help crime analysts around the world improve their skills and make valuable contacts, to help law enforcement agencies make the best use of crime analysis, and to advocate for standards of performance and technique within the profession itself.”

As a long-time IACA member, I have enjoyed seeing the organization’s membership grow from its beginnings as a small group of dedicated volunteers to where it is today, with over 5,000 active members. This year’s conference saw 600 registrants, with first-time attendees making up over half of that number. The IACA’s growth shows an increasing awareness of the importance making connections and embracing new technologies plays in criminal investigations.

Attendee Impressions: The need for open-source intelligence

The overwhelming impression shared by those in attendance was that they were still doing most of their investigation work manually, relying heavily on their own varied organizational methods to conduct research and analysis. This can be especially difficult when it comes to social network analysis. Many attendees were excited to learn that investigations that might take an analyst hours upon hours of combing through online media layers and connections to complete, can be accomplished more in depth in a matter of minutes by using OSINT platforms such as Cobwebs’ Tangles.

Others expressed concerns over the safety of their online presence—another forte of Tangles. The platform keeps all activities and users protected within its environment without requiring them to have any other accounts, as it’s accessing publicly available information. Still more were impressed that Tangles retains all content used to conduct research—even if the content has been deleted from online platforms where it originated.

The team at the booth even worked on some real-life scenarios, helping investigators from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. It was refreshing to see an increased understanding of how OSINT’s analytical capabilities can save time and money—and keep officers on the streets.

Offering Insights at the IACA Conference

As the Visionary Sponsor of the event, Cobwebs’ executives had the pleasure of speaking at the opening ceremony, as well giving a short presentation at the awards luncheon. Most importantly, we were able to offer two highly attended speaking sessions, led by Stephen Lerner, Intelligence Analyst Team Leader.

The social network analysis discussion provided tips and tricks to enhance the efficiency of manual searches and shortcuts for combing through the abundance of disinformation online. For example, when engaging on more sensitive subjects—such as disinformation or cryptocurrency—users often opt to use a more nondescript profile image, rather than a picture of themselves. When an investigator is familiar with the significance of these images—such as “RT” for The Russian Times or the common QAnon avatar—it’s easier to determine when an online presence is a meme or troll account. Another suggestion is don’t overlook the interactions and reactions on open posts. These were just some of the examples provided to the end users and analysts present.

Lerner’s introduction to cryptocurrency session was geared to help those new to the concept gain a general understanding of what it is and how it works. Cryptocurrency is based on blockchain technology, a shared, immutable ledger for recording transactions, tracking assets and building trust. Lerner compared cryptocurrency, and more specifically a ledger, to going out with a group of friends and splitting the bill for a pizza. Write down on a piece of paper who owes who money. Keep that paper, and you have your ledger. That’s obviously a basic comparison, but one that allowed attendees to get a general sense and background on how cryptocurrency works and what it means to the analyst community.

OSINT is Critical for Crime and Intelligence Analysis

Overall, the best part of the IACA conference for me was the opportunity for analysts from around the world to learn from one-another and share their experience for the benefit of advancing the field of investigative analysis. If you are interested in learning more about OSINT, social network analysis, crypto, or how technology can support the analyst community please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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