Stay up to date with the latest OSINT news from around the world

This week’s open-source intelligence (OSINT) news from around the world includes a new tool that helps readers in oppressed countries access uncensored media, the power of data in gaining military advantage, the role of OSINT in Ukraine’s success in standing up to Russia, and why the U.S. needs to take immediate action to invest in technology to keep its competitive edge with China.

This is the OSINT news you need to know this week:

New anti-censorship tool allows people to read blocked independent media content

A new project, called Samizdat Online, is helping people in Russia, Belarus and other oppressed countries access uncensored news and information. Yevgeny Simkin, who left Soviet Russia when he was a child, founded Samizdat when Russian troops first invaded Ukraine in February. His organization syndicates content from more than a dozen blocked publications in Russia and Belarus to new, random-looking domains, which the organization creates and registers in large numbers. Every time a user visits a banned website, it shows on a different domain — something like sfzgohtwrm.net/, with the rest of the URL made up of a long string of characters and letters which encode data about the page. The result is that people can dodge censorship by using links from Samizdat Online, with all the sites hosted on the open web.

Simkin believes that the Russian censorship machine will crack down on his project in the near future, but for now, he plans to keep ramping up his system to avoid blocks, and even expand his services to China.

“After the first month of the war, we realized that blocking is working, unfortunately. Samizdat Online will not give us a huge audience, but it’s a way to grow our readership inside Russia, among those who are not very familiar with VPNs or who are not technically driven.”

- Galina Timchenko, Meduza CEO, Russia’s biggest independent news organization

A word of caution for OSINT researchers, journalists and anyone else who is concerned about staying anonymous online: Samizdat’s anti-censorship approach doesn’t prevent a person’s web activity from being linked back to them. Even though Samizdat Online doesn’t store visitors’ IP addresses, their identity can still be revealed, especially if their web traffic is already being monitored.

The power and danger of data-rich battlefields

The Internet of Things has found its way into the military, as detailed in a recent article from West Point’s Lieber Institute. Weapons systems, logistics operations and command and control systems are heavily reliant upon IT network connections. This interconnectedness generates enormous amounts of data; and capturing and processing all this data is a key component of any contemporary military operation.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine shows what the future of warfare may look like in a hyper-connected, data-rich world. From AI-driven drones recording troop movements and dropping ordinance to sharing data using satellite systems, all sides are using data to gain advantage and predict their opponent’s next moves.

While the Lieber Institute article focuses primarily on the legal implications of using data in the battlefield and examines the ramifications of violating the laws of armed conflict (LOAC), it is also a useful source of information for OSINT researchers who may want to see what types of data-gathering tools are used by the modern military, how publicly available intelligence can be used to drive operations decision-making, and how allies can lend their support to the war effort through data collection.

“The Ukraine-Russia conflict is a harbinger of the importance of data in warfare. Data-rich battlefields will be a part of any conflict with the State best able to harness and take advantage of the information environment having a significant military advantage.”

- Brig. Gen. Shane Reeves, West Point Dean; Professor Robert Lawless, Lieber Institute Managing Director

Boosting OSINT use: a smart move

Every form of intelligence is vital to national security and defense, but the explosion of publicly available information and the information warfare efforts between Russia and Ukraine has placed OSINT at center stage. It was largely open-source information that allowed the U.S. government to predict Russia’s invasion, and OSINT continues to help Ukraine in both its military operations and in boosting morale and swaying international opinion in its favor.

Civilians around the world have joined the OSINT fray, identifying Russian weapon systems, assessing losses and using Google Street View to locate Russian forces. Amateur analysts with cellphones and internet connections used social media channels to reach thousands of people and impact the course of the war. OSINT also offers great value across the range of cyber operations. It helps track tactics, techniques and procedures, enhances threat intelligence and offers opportunities for broader intelligence sharing with the private sector. The international OSINT community is learning valuable lessons from the Russia-Ukraine conflict; and can continue to implement them in both future military operations and other missions, such as disaster relief.

“The intelligence community understands that new technologies such as cloud-enabled artificial intelligence and machine learning also have a starring role to play in the full spectrum of intelligence missions, OSINT being just one.”

- Lt. Gen. Susan S. Lawrence (R), President, AFCEA International and former Army CIO/G-6

U.S. needs to invest in technology to remain competitive

The Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP) released its first report titled, “Mid-Decade Challenges to National Competitiveness.” The report argues that the United States is in a fierce technology competition with China, and to remain competitive, the U.S. needs to take dramatic action across a broad range of public policy arenas to invest in its technology advantages, strengthen the techno-industrial base, and deploy disruptive technologies.

The report has specific recommendations regarding OSINT. The authors suggest that the U.S. government should place the collection of publicly available information; acquisition of commercially available information; and their processing at the center of its renewed open-source efforts. It also recommends that the government create a new, well-resourced institutional home for open-source collection, acquisition, processing and analysis.

“The United States needs a technology center strategy. We cannot keep playing catch-up like we have on 5G and microelectronics supply chains. The United States needs to organize, make strategic tech bets, help resource technology sectors and applications, and adapt our national security tools.”

- Ylli Bajraktari, CEO, SCSP

Take a deeper dive into the SCSP report and the role of OSINT in technological competition with China >

Devil in the data: publicly available information poses risks to U.S. military

As the Arab Spring revolutions ripped through the Middle East and North Africa in the early 2010s, an important transformation was taking place: instead of getting their information from traditional media institutions, people around the globe were watching the upheaval unfold live on social media.

An entire human rights cottage industry sprung up around the new data sources, most of it focused on doing good. However, as with all technology, there is also a dark side to the big data explosion that poses significant risks to privacy and national security.

DoD researchers at West Point’s Modern War Institute point out that commercialization of personal data is not only used to help shape consumer behavior — it also enables our adversaries to accumulate vast amounts of knowledge on U.S. persons, including service members. They warn that without fully understanding how the commercial surveillance economy impacts military operational effectiveness, the U.S. sets itself at a strategic disadvantage. DoD cybersecurity officers urge its agencies to take multi-level preclusions, similar to the measures OSINT researchers use to protect their identities and missions:

  • Securing networks
  • Adding risk mitigation strategies
  • Making privacy tools and education a priority
  • Implementing a layered approach to addressing the risks generated by publicly available information and the surveillance economy

“DoD must acknowledge the fundamental source of risk to the U.S. military from the information environment, namely the vast amounts of data collected and sold on U.S. service members. And our adversaries can (and do) use the commercial data economy to target U.S. service members and their families, and to pollute the information environment to diminish operational effectiveness.”

- Major Joe Littell, U.S. Army psychological operations officer; Captain Maggie Smith, PhD, U.S. Army cyber officer; Major Nick Starck, U.S. Army cyber officer

Every other week, we collect OSINT news from around the world. We continue to keep a close watch on Russia's war in Ukraine, especially on Twitter. We’re also gathering information on cyberthreats, federal intelligence strategies and much more. Find us on Twitter and share the OSINT news you’re keeping up with.

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