A Bigger Picture: How Open Source and Dark Web Enhance the GEOINT Mission

An all-star panel explored a holistic approach of capturing geospatial data and using the open and dark web to support the GEOINT mission


During the latest GEOConnect Series Main Stage, audience members got a chance to interact with geospatial and open-source intelligence (OSINT) experts on utilizing publicly available information across the open, deep, and dark web.

The Dark Web

The surface web, which is any part of the internet that can be accessed with a search engine, makes up only about 4% of the internet. The deep web, which is anything that is not accessible by a search engine like your Netflix account or your bank account, is the vast majority of the internet—90% plus. That leaves the dark web, which is often conflated with the deep web. The dark web contains specific information that will require specific technology, such as a browser or an encryption algorithm, to access.

The dark web was originally designed to provide a safe communication channel to allow individuals in high-risk countries to access the internet anonymously. But according to Cory Everington, director of artificial intelligence, Bluestone Analytics, to use the dark web in a geospatial context, you have to get creative.

“You are not going to get the IP address because that is being obscured. But there are a lot of sources that you can leverage to build up supporting information for other pieces of intelligence you might have,” Everington said.

 The Risk Behind OSINT

OSINT is a methodology for collecting, analyzing, and making decisions about data accessible in publicly available sources to be used in an intelligence context. Thom Kaye, federal program manager, Authentic8, has used OSINT data to supplement much of his analysis in his 20-plus years of supporting the GEOINT mission.

“OSINT is available at all times. It’s used for tipping and queuing satellites. It’s great for indications and warning of events. And one of the really unique things about it is that it fills holes and gaps where other traditional sources don’t have coverage,” said Kaye.

What makes OSINT both interesting and risky is that, with publicly available information, you are collecting the data yourself. As an analyst, typically, most of the data that you’re traditionally exposed to has been collected for you. But according to Kaye, when collecting your own data, the last thing that you want to do is use a commercial browser like Chrome or Firefox.

“Essentially you have to disguise yourself. You have to use a managed attribution solution, which is a secure tool, or a web browser that helps you blend into the environment by creating a persona to convince others that you belong,” said Kaye.

The Value Behind OSINT

In GEOINT, we have always used the ability to observe something remotely as a source of truth. According to Patrick Biltgen, Ph.D., director of analytics, Perspecta, this can improve an analyst’s confidence in what he or she is seeing because there are not a lot of things that do not leave some sort of GEOINT signature. GEOINT sources, Biltgen added, can be a source of truth.

There is also the increasing proliferation of commercial location data. While the community is familiar with commercial satellite imagery, increasingly, there are sources of all kinds of location data, such as locations of events or mobility. This sort of data is anonymous and details a lot about the activities and behaviors of people. With all of that information, you can start to make predictions and provide valuable information to policymakers.

“Using orthogonal data to help improve your confidence, always considering space and time together and increasingly using these commercial GEOINT sources can really tell us a lot about the things people do and why they’re doing them,” said Biltgen.

USGIF continues its mission to bring thought leadership, cutting-edge technological presentations, key insights for decision-making, and educational and professional development opportunities to the entire geospatial intelligence, trade, and academic community. The GEOConnect Series is an accelerated outcome from USGIF’s strategic plan to go digital. The GEOConnect Series features multi-session virtual events such as live-streamed or recorded panels, podcasts, webinars, training, a virtual exhibit showcase, and more.

Learn more about The GEOConnect Series.

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