How to use OSINT for Brand Protection

By Blackdot Solutions

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    Practicing good brand protection is crucial to a company’s success. It helps maintain integrity, protect revenue and keep customer trust.

    However, effective brand protection is far from simple, especially given that the internet facilitates the sale of large volumes counterfeit goods. The criminals behind these sales are hard to identify: their identity is often concealed and the scale of the problem means that limited time can be spent on each case. In short, it can feel impossible to keep on top of counterfeit production and protect your brand effectively.

    Yet the internet can also be used to the investigator’s advantage. Open source intelligence (OSINT) can be used to glean valuable insights into the companies and individuals behind counterfeit production. Of course, OSINT comes with its own challenges: large volumes of data can be difficult to navigate and make connections hard to spot. Investing in the right technology can help you overcome these challenges and make the most of this highly valuable technique.

    In this article, we’ll demonstrate how OSINT should be a crucial part of every good brand protection strategy, and how technology can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of new processes. Starting with an image of a legitimate product, we’ll rapidly identify illicit sales and form a picture of who might be behind them. To further streamline our OSINT investigation, we’ll be using Blackdot’s OSINT solution, Videris, to host our case.

    Read on to discover how OSINT technology can unlock better brand protection by enhancing investigations into counterfeit activity.

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    Conducting a reverse image search

    In this investigation, we’ll be researching counterfeits of a Rolex watch. We begin by viewing the legitimate product through the Videris browser.

    Videris allows the user to leverage this image to identify counterfeits by providing a reverse image search. This feature searches across the web to pinpoint images which are similar or identical to the initial image, meaning it’s ideal for finding sites where illicit sales are happening.

    An image of the Videris browser on Rolex's website, showing the watch which will the be basis of our brand protection investigation.
    Begin investigations with an image using reverse image search.
    An image of the Rolex watch
    Videris reverse image search can be activated with a simple click.

    Using a secure browser to assess legitimacy

    Our reverse image search has yielded 29 results. It’s now time to determine which of these results could be linked to the production of counterfeits.

    Clicking on a result will take the user to website it appears on. When conducting OSINT investigations on the web, investigators have to consider security. If they leave a digital footprint, criminals could spot that they are being investigated, undermining the investigation.

    This challenge is amplified if the investigator needs to make use of content on the dark web. Counterfeit goods are often sold here; in particular, those subject to regulatory restrictions such as pharmaceutical drugs. Browsing the dark web is riddled with security risks which can limit an investigator’s ability to access this data.

    Usually, investigators bear the responsibility of implementing security protocols to avoid detection. However, this responsibility eats into valuable time that could be spent investigating, lowering efficiency. Videris’ secure browser solves this problem: it provides inbuilt security features to hide the user’s digital identity, meaning that they can investigate on the web without complication. When it comes to the dark web, investigators can search forums and marketplaces without downloading a separate browser or risking becoming infected with malware.

    An image of a webpage selling a counterfeit Rolex watch, a clear risk to the brand.
    Videris’ secure browser allows you to chase leads on the web without leaving a digital footprint.

    In our investigation, we’ll be using Videris’ secure browser to look into the results of our reverse image search for counterfeit activity.

    One result takes us to a suspicious e-commerce site, ‘VIP-Replica’, based in Moscow. A quick scan of this website confirms that this is likely a counterfeit: the site name and product listing both indicate that this is a replica, rather than a legitimate product.

    After confirming that this is a result of interest, we can gather information which will help us understand this vendor further. The website displays the vendor’s contact information, including their address and telephone number.

    Revealing criminals using social media

    Now that we’ve started to gather information, it’s important to keep a clear record of what’s been uncovered. Videris makes this easy, allowing us to visualise the information involved in a case using a chart, which makes spotting connections more intuitive.

    From here, we can use Videris’ automation features to analyse VIP-Replica’s website. This will bring the website’s metadata onto the chart, making any affiliated phone numbers, email addresses, websites and publicly available social media profiles available to the investigator.

    A network graph of the internet data we've uncovered in our brand protection investigation so far.
    Visualise your known intelligence to spot connections faster.

    Analysing the metadata has uncovered an email address associated with the vendor. With this information, we’re able to use Videris’ Shadowdragon SocialNet integration to see if there are any other social media profiles linked to this email. This can be done with just a few clicks and without leaving the chart, streamlining our investigation.

    Similarly, once we’ve identified a username that’s relevant to our investigation, we can then conduct a further search to find any other online profiles affiliated with this name. We can automatically include a wide range of sources in this search, including both common and more specific social media platforms where profiles may be publicly viewable. This iterative search helps us to build a fuller picture of the organisation selling counterfeit goods and has even uncovered a named individual for further investigation.

    A network graph showing the social media accounts we've uncovered.
    Track suspects across social media using only their email.

    Leveraging corporate records

    A name is an extremely valuable piece of information, because it can be used to generate actionable intelligence from a wide range of data sources. In our case, we’re going to search corporate records to attempt to gain more detailed information on the companies and people who might be involved in the selling of counterfeits through VIP-Replica.

    Spotting connections with Videris search

    Many search engines hinder, rather than help, OSINT investigators because they don’t order results based on relevance. Instead, factors such as search engine optimisation (SEO) and paid advertisement have a huge impact on what results show first. This means that an investigator could have to dig through pages of irrelevant results to find the information they need.

    Unlike these search engines, Videris search has been designed with OSINT investigators in mind. It ranks results by context, meaning it gets you to the relevant information quicker. It also allows you to select from a wide variety of data sources, giving you access to a broad pool of information and therefore increasing the chances of finding something relevant. Here, we’ll be searching quality global corporate records databases such as Orbis, OpenCorporates and D&B.

    An image of Videris search, searching for the man who may be behind the counterfeits.
    Videris search helps investigators find relevant information faster.

    Using the name we previously uncovered, we’ve found some matches in the corporate records databases. Crucially, someone with this name has appeared in an officer record, linked to the company ‘Vip Transfer’.

    As we can see, the term ‘VIP’ has been highlighted in the first result. This is because Videris has spotted that this term matches our known intelligence. In other words, the term ‘VIP’ appears both in the information we’ve already put in the chart, and this search result. Videris brings this fact clearly to the user’s attention to ensure they don’t miss any potential connections or relevant results.

    Mapping corporate networks

    So far, corporate records have helped us identify that the person linked to VIP-Replica is also the director of a company called Vip Transfer. Given this close link, it’s likely that Vip Transfer is connected to the illicit sales of counterfeit watches on VIP Replica.

    However, Vip Transfer and its director aren’t the only ones who could be implicated in these sales. By examining the corporate network associated with this company, we can uncover other parties who might be involved. A simple click in Videris’ chart automatically pulls through expanded corporate records information for Vip Transfer. This is then displayed in the chart, allowing us to visualise how this information fits together easily.

    Uncover potential suspects by mapping corporate networks.

    We’ve now uncovered other names the company goes by, as well as a registered street address and a second related officer.

    How technology and OSINT come together to enhance brand protection

    Using OSINT, we’ve been able to identify the sale of counterfeits online and who might be behind them. This information empowers the initial company – in our case, Rolex – to take further action and effectively implement brand protection. For example, at this stage the company could run due diligence checks on the officers related to Vip Transfer to determine the likelihood of their involvement with counterfeit sales.

    OSINT alone is a powerful resource for any brand protection investigation, but technology amplifies its benefits. Conducting this investigation in Videris has streamlined the process, making our operations more efficient. Find out more about how Videris can transform your brand protection by booking a demo today.

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