In this blog, Jeff Fehmel, Fivecast Tradecraft Specialist delves into the online indicators of extremism and radicalization detectable with OSINT tools which are instrumental in counter-terrorism investigations.
Extremism has a Comfortable Home Online
While the societal scourge of violent extremism is not new, the speed at which individuals are radicalized is a relatively new phenomenon. This online radicalization is further aided by the volume of extremist content and the depth and breadth of online platforms. The internet offers an unparalleled and previously unavailable level of access and networking for violent extremists and terrorists. Today, radicalization can happen online, for free, in the home of anyone with internet access. Signing up for applications and chat rooms is free and nearly instantaneous. Manifestos and radical literature in digital forms are often also free, with the click of a link or download button.
We recently delivered a webinar on violent extremists and mass shooters leveraging diverse online platforms with our partner, Giant Oak. Request the webinar to learn about the role OSINT plays in monitoring violent extremism and detecting radicalization.
Uncovering Indicators of Terrorism with OSINT
Using the internet, violent extremists can interact with each other and share ideas, validating and refining their theories more easily than ever before. The result is not only instances of violence, but also a library of extremist literature freely available on the web. In analyzing the behavior of extremist groups and radicalized individuals, clues as to the valuable role that OSINT can play in identifying radicalization and extremism online become evident. Almost all extremists leave a trail of content and radical theory, whether through conversations, comments, online posts, or full manifestos. Like any group interested in expansion, extremists require places to market their ideas to like-minded individuals. Networking and citation both play a vital role in this cycle.
Data Collection and Analytics for Counter-Terrorism
As we grow more aware of terrorist activity on the internet, OSINT comes to the fore with practical and tangible methods to uncover risks. OSINT helps law enforcement collect data on violent extremist movements and better understand their operational capabilities and motivations. Targeted and automated collection against a wide range of online platforms is fundamental to detecting extremism and radicalization.
AI-enabled risk analytics are invaluable for detecting threats that appear in images, videos, written text, or digital network connections. For example, Fivecast ONYX is proven to save analyst teams hours and days of manual data manipulation with ongoing, repeatable, and automated collection and assessment of diverse data mediums, presented in a way that makes assessment efficient. The customizable risk detection framework rapidly surfaces content of interest, including user-defined keywords, phrases, and quotes from manifestos in posts. Fivecast ONYX automatically assesses images and videos for objects, concepts, logos, and text (extracted through optical character recognition) of interest. In addition, intelligence teams can identify relationships across thousands of different data points with an intuitive network analysis.
4chan remains an active hub of radical ideology, particularly on its politically incorrect (/pol/) board, which is rife with racism, misogyny, antisemitism, and other hate speech. Gendron specifically mentions the gun (/k/) and outdoors (/out/) boards in his manifesto; like many of the boards on 4chan, these aren’t explicitly extremist but nonetheless include many posters steeped in the far-right lingo and sensibilities that pervade the site.
The importance of open, anonymous extremist sites like 4chan and 8kun cannot be ignored. While many extremists like to communicate and interact on pseudo-anonymous or closed sites, they invariably gravitate towards public sites, when possible, simply because that is where they reach a broader audience.
Open-Source Intelligence for Violent Extremist threat monitoring
Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) enables analysts to monitor violent extremism online to rapidly filter through masses of online data to identify threats. Effective domestic extremism investigations require advanced OSINT tools to track threat actors as they move across online platforms, identify threat groups and their networks and resolve online identities on platforms such as 4chan that foster anonymity.
Fivecast ONYX supports domestic extremism investigations with secure, persistent and ongoing data collection in real time across a wide range of online platforms, providing analysts with a broad picture of online threats. In addition, a customizable AI-enabled risk assessment framework helps analysts rapidly filter and risk assess multi-media data to identify threats hidden in images, videos and text.