Technology Empowering OSINT Taskforces in 2024

By Rebecca Lindley

OSINT Task Forces blog image

    Get the latest news and insights sent straight to your inbox

    In November last year Europol announced the formation of a new OSINT taskforce, aimed at supporting investigations into war crimes in Ukraine. This follows a global trend towards wider, better-publicised use of OSINT. International OSINT taskforces have been employed in many contexts in recent years: from understanding violence in Myanmar, to responding to child protection issues.

    Discussion around the formation of OSINT-specific intelligence agencies has also increased. The founding of a UK centre designed to make more effective use of Open Source Intelligence has also highlighted the growing prioritisation of OSINT in national – and international – intelligence.

    These large, often multi-national OSINT organisations represent a positive step forwards in our ability to fight crimes effectively, but their global, complex nature gives rise to unique challenges. In this article we explore how technology can be used to support investigators and solve many of these challenges.

    OSINT Taskforces: a transformative approach to fighting serious crime?

    Taskforces are particularly beneficial when fighting crimes that are highly networked and cross-border in nature. By bringing together experts from different nations, with different expertise, investigators are more likely to gain a true understanding of crime taking place and can work to counter it more effectively. Benefits of this approach include:

    • Improved intelligence sharing: Sharing intelligence is frequently touted as the answer to more effective investigations – but this can be easier said than done. Working together within a taskforce can allow different parties to bring intelligence to the table while reducing the operational complexity associated with sharing it.
    • Understanding entire networks: By bringing different pieces of the intelligence puzzle together, taskforces are more likely to be able to understand entire criminal networks – putting a stop to more crime.
    • Wider range of skills, data and cultural awareness: More diverse skills, data sources and language capabilities improve a taskforce’s ability to gather valuable intelligence on transnational crime.

    Key challenges for OSINT Taskforces

    Conversely, the strengths of these taskforces can also create significant challenges, namely around large-scale investigations involving huge data volumes.

    Unmanageable data

    In any OSINT investigation, collecting data from multiple disparate sources is slow and can impact time available for analysis. Comparing and analysing data from multiple different sources is equally time-consuming. At the same time, investigators must ensure that sources are captured and evidence carefully stored so that it can be used in criminal proceedings later. In the context of a large-scale taskforce investigation, these challenges are compounded: investigators must manage hundreds of searches, sources and pieces of evidence. More time can be spent managing data than extracting vital intelligence from it.

    Network analysis

    When it comes to extracting intelligence from data that’s collected, network analysis is key. Here, again, the sheer scale of data involved can be challenging. Identifying links or similarities between a few data points may be possible manually, but doing so between thousands of data points (or more) is unlikely to be feasible without technological support.

    Barriers across borders

    Many taskforces comprise investigators from multiple countries and this brings its own challenges. These can range from the requirement for many investigators to work on an investigation simultaneously and share findings in real-time – to the need to overcome language barriers to ensure effective co-working.

    How is technology supporting OSINT taskforces?

    Technology can empower OSINT taskforces to overcome these challenges and maximise effectiveness. Here are some ways OSINT technology is already helping law enforcement to make this happen.

    All-in-one platforms for OSINT investigation

    Investing in platforms that allow all of an OSINT investigation to take place in a single interface can be transformative for taskforces dealing with large-scale, complex investigations. These platforms bring disparate data sources into a single interface, making it easier to gain a full picture and maximise effectiveness in even the most complex investigation.

    Depending on their purpose, taskforces may have specific data requirements in addition to more typical OSINT sources. In these cases, they should look for solutions that allow for easy integration of additional, customer- specific sources to ensure maximum effectiveness.

    Leading analytical tools

    To maximise their impact, taskforces need the best analytical tools. Leading OSINT platforms offer a range of features designed to enhance the investigator’s analytical skills while leaving them in charge of every investigation.

    • Federated search – Searches across the live surface, deep and dark web need to be optimised for investigation, not consumers. Good search tools avoid search engine bias and security risks, so investigators can find the most relevant information to their investigation with ease. 
    • Network analysis and visualisation – Finding connections is essential to many of the investigations taskforces carry out. Automated visualisation tools give an intuitive understanding of networks, while advanced connection analysis automatically flags hidden links between people, companies and other data.
    • AI-enabled risk analysis – The best investigation tools ensure that AI works with, not to replace, investigators’ skills; for example by helping them to sift through large volumes of data at speed and use contextual analysis to review only the results that contain risk. 

    Barriers to usage

    The right OSINT technology will support teams in disparate locations, facilitating the use of multiple languages, global data sources and more.

    Technology plays a key role in OSINT taskforces’ success

    Every OSINT taskforce should consider investing in technology that can support its investigators to overcome the challenges inherent in large-scale, complex OSINT investigations.

    When researching and procuring this technology, taskforces should ensure that it offers highly effective search and visualisation tools that allow investigators to cut through large volumes of data, find connections and insights at speed, and maximise effectiveness. By employing the right combination of international expertise and high-quality technology, OSINT taskforces can ensure maximum impact on major crimes.

    More insights