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Hear from our CEO about the Key OSINT Trends in 2024 Read Now

In this blog, Fivecast Tradecraft Advisor, Gill Smith explores how Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) can assist law enforcement agencies in monitoring and detecting criminal activity on the surface, deep and dark web to inform intelligence investigations.  

law enforcement vs criminals

In the classic comic strip, ‘Spy vs Spy,’ the Black and White spy have always been after each other. They chase, scheme, and plot, all of which require a certain level of ingenuity by each actor. Similarly, two groups that consistently deploy ingenuity are law enforcement entities and the criminals they pursue. As opposed to the Black and White Spy historically battling it out in magazines, criminal activity can now occur across a range of platforms, whether physical or online, and evidence of illegal activities can be found there too.


Hiding in Plain Sight Online

Online forums, pages and platforms that cater to the social experience provide a sense of anonymity for threat actors who often present a conservative image in person- but a vastly different online persona as they engage in incriminating conversations publicly. Many take advantage of the capabilities and features of specific online platforms to conduct criminal activities, hoping to hide in plain sight. Activities such as this can be thwarted by law enforcement agencies that use open-source intelligence (OSINT) powered by advanced yet intuitive technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to stay ahead of the evolving social media landscape. OSINT can be a powerful and important complement to traditional intelligence collection for law enforcement agencies.

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Ingenuity with Conflicting Purpose

The enticing features social platforms incorporate to foster conversation across the world vary in security measures and types of data being shared. In most cases the first method of securing publicly available data on social platforms is by requiring a user to have an account. This matrix of communication methods is vast and creates opportune venues for criminal elements to operate. The increase in privacy for users provides a sense of security for the individuals conducting illegal activities before they occur; or when they are in the planning phases. These activities often leave behind information that can be useful for investigators looking for indications or evidence of criminal activity.

For instance, posts are often sprinkled with pieces of information that can lead to a breakthrough in an investigation by including indicative locations, motives, tactics, or personally identifiable information. In addition, finding alternative online platform features such as privacy settings increases threat actor confidence of being able to continue their illegal activities with reduced risk of law enforcement intervention. Physical evidence of crimes in real life can degrade, deteriorate, or even go missing. In contrast, evidence of online behavior and online criminal activity is routinely saved on numerous servers and is almost impossible to remove.

The Value of OSINT for Law Enforcement

This has not been lost on law enforcement agencies, who have long recognized the value of online data and its ability to protect and serve the community. As new features and platforms are developed, law enforcement agencies need to regularly assess the implications and potential nefarious activities that criminal entities may engage in across the vast online landscape. While this can be a tedious and manual process for an investigator, many law enforcement agencies are embracing advanced OSINT technologies to augment their own investigation techniques with automated data collection and analysis that aids mission success.

Cat vs. Mouse or Spy vs. Spy?

The acquisition of new technology by law enforcement requires due diligence is conducted to ensure it is effective at scale, automated, uncovers actionable insights for investigators and is suitable for organizational needs. Technologies that can only assist with one specific type of case provide a limited amount of efficiency and effectiveness for organizations that conduct investigations in multiple different focus areas. Incorporating technology that can address a broad range of intelligence use cases assists law enforcement and prevents the criminal elements from being out of reach for law enforcement interdiction. Our blog on transnational organized crime provides more insight on the use and need for open-source intelligence when addressing much larger criminal organizations.

Fivecast OSINT solutions for Law Enforcement

With the massive amounts of data that are produced online, it becomes imperative for investigators to utilize a platform that is both scalable and versatile regarding online data. The customizable risk detection framework provided in Fivecast ONYX enables investigators to analyze each individual case with similar depth, despite the differences in purpose and content. In order to prevent criminals having an edge against undermanned law enforcement agencies, effective training is essential to assist with adoption of new technologies including OSINT.

Fivecast Academy is a training platform that delivers open-source intelligence (OSINT) best practices training to help law enforcement upskill to use actionable insights from surface, deep and dark web platforms while identifying and analyzing criminal entities operating or communicating online. Addressing the massive and growing amount of online crime and data associated with just one person (or more if it is a criminal organization) is exponentially more effective with the incorporation of advanced OSINT technologies that can be leveraged to tip the scales in favor of law enforcement.