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Digital intelligence company Fivecast has expanded its services in a growing global fight against terrorism and organised crime.

Belinda Willis

New contracts with major American law enforcement agencies are seeing Fivecast beef up its fight against security threats from its headquarters in Adelaide, South Australia.

Chief executive officer Dr Brenton Cooper said the company has also opened an office in Arlington, Virginia, to expand the reach of its unique Fivecast Onyx software.

The software uses artificial intelligence to search masses of texts, images and videos on the internet to uncover red flags in extremism, organised crime and fraud – and more recently help with vital COVID-19 contact tracing.

“We now have three major customers in the United States including a large Federal law enforcement agency and we’re working on signing up another major client,” Dr Cooper said.

Fivecast started pitching for business to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defence in the United States last year after winning a $4 million funds injection in Australia to expand its global business.

Dr Cooper, whose career spans technology and management roles for companies including BAE Systems, Tenix Defence and Motorola, declined to name Fivecast’s new clients but added that the company was also working with Australian law enforcement agencies.

Its software adds a new layer to intelligence gathering by searching chatrooms, social media, online marketplaces and the dark web for “the needle in the haystack”.

“We analyse publicly available information people have willingly posted on the internet, it’s available to law enforcement through traditional means but we’ve automated the process,” Dr Cooper said.

Fivecast was co-founded with Duane Rivett, Dave Blockow and Ross Buglak in August 2017 as a spin out from the Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) in Adelaide, South Australia.

The CRC was a five-year collaboration between Australia’s national security agencies and various research organisations, to find new ways to fight threats from extremism and radicalisation.

Dr Cooper said the company now has 25 staff and one of its “great advantages is that we have been created out of a law enforcement and national security need”.

“We worked hand in hand with intelligence analysts and investigators on what they need,” he said.

“(Other companies in this field have more) of a social media approach that begins more with brand management and reputation management.

“Fivecast Onyx data collection and analysis system can be configured by the customer to look at particular data collections, right wing extremism, data from the murky depths of the internet, it can look at particular risks or searches, like certain images whether they are logos or swastikas.”

Dr Cooper said Fivecast is currently recruiting for its United States office and recently won an Australian Defence Global Competitiveness Grant to create an online training academy.

“We’ve had such good growth in the United States we wanted to give customers up-to-date resources to build online lessons and materials,” he said.

He believed there would be greater demand for the company’s ability to use the software for contact tracing for COVID-19, particularly in the United States where the pandemic was likely to be more persistent.

“In Australia, the COVID app is one way of tracing people, it’s a very good way, but not everyone is going to be downloading the app and we need a range of tools,” Dr Cooper said.