After the Webinar: Open Source and Social Media Intelligence Strategies. Q&A with Valarie Findlay

Webinar presenter Valarie Findlay answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Open Source and Social Media Intelligence: Strategies for Criminal Justice Professionals. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: Is Yandex safe to use without an anonymizer? The content seems to have severely been curtailed as well. 

Valarie Findlay: I would suggest using an anonymizer, for sure. And yes, I think that’s a fair observation. And I think this is one of the things that we’re kind of running into. I had a conversation about this recently about censorship on social media platforms. Where there is a need to censor certain things, but the more we alter what is naturally presented and provided in OSINT and SOCMINT, the less useful it is for law enforcement and other investigative agencies. It’s tricky. When we look at social media – this is a commercial business and they are going to do what’s best for their business and shareholders. That creates some hurdles and barriers for us and in terms of legislative issues. Getting back to the question. Yes, so anytime that I use any kind of tool or search engine, I don’t want that search engine to know anything about me. Typically, depending on what device I’m using, I’ll scrub my system. I’ll use CC cleaner. I’ll wipe everything from previous searches. I’ll use an Incognito or a guest mode. Essentially, I have no metadata or form data or browsing data behind me, because it will definitely skew search results. If a search engine with a dynamic cookie knows that I live in a particular area or have particular interests it is going to push the results that relate to those known pieces of information about me, towards me … Because it’s all about business, right? I’m hoping that answers the question, if not, just come back at me on it.


Audience Question: When using the OSINT tools such as and, do you run the chance of burning the image that the site platform will archive the image and possibly reverse engineer who submitted it for edits? 

Valarie Findlay:  Yes. That’s where I would go back to the legalities around SOCMINT and what I was. I was aiming for a very broad presentation that is useful for everybody. I see where you’re coming from on this and I wouldn’t chance it. …  there are plenty of other tools that can be brought in-house, that you can do the very same thing with and you don’t lose control of the source photo. You have to weigh the sensitivity and the confidentiality of what you’re doing and I’m speaking specifically to military intelligence, law enforcement, and our federal resources. These tools can be expensive, but they’re necessary, because there’s a legal requirement to protect certain information for a variety of reasons, and sometimes to protect the source and the people involved in the investigation. So, in trying to keep it to a short answer, you’ll know, if anytime that you upload anything, believe that it’s going to be everywhere tomorrow. once you lose control of it, it’s in the wild and you don’t know where it’s going to go.


Audience Question: I have found that Google images are better for landscapes, and Yandex, excels at facial recognition. Have seen this kind of pattern? 

Valarie Findlay: I think I did, I did before. I feel like they’ve updated or changed their algorithm in the past maybe a year. But I would say, this is just me personally, if I feel like I’m thinking that something is going to do a better job than something else, I erase that notion immediately. Because things can change at any time with online tools and technologies so I don’t want to go in with a presumption that I’m going to use something, thinking this will be better for facial recognition because it was before I try to remove that bias and just use as many tools as possible irrespective of what I believe it to be. In the past, I’ve come to rely on certain platforms and tools –  Facebook is a really good example of operating in a particular way –  and then they change everything. Then you’re like, “Whoa, wait a second,” and then you have to change your modus operandi and how you’re approaching your data problem and what you’re trying to gather. So, for what it’s worth. I just kind of go, “Meh, maybe it was yesterday but who knows if it is today or not.” But I do regard both of those search engines. The functionality is quite exceptional so I do go to those two fairly often.


Audience Question: Are there any tools that we can use to improve image resolution?

Valarie Findlay:  I personally, don’t know of any free ones that I would rely on, and certainly for the reason that was brought up earlier about the confidentiality and sensitivity of the photos. I mean, I’ve been a big fan of Adobe products, Corel, which I’ve used extensively, Illustrator, Freehand, and a number of different graphics packages, all bring different things in. Macromedia was an excellent suite, which, I think Adobe bought recently, maybe in the past 10 years. Those are really great for optimizing photos. The only, downside is that you have to have a little bit of knowledge of graphic design and the elements of photography to make it worthwhile. Because it can get a little time-consuming, I would recommend that the commercial packages off the shelf something you would bring in-house, a licensed copy that you can rely on.


Audience Question: What is the best VPN to use when you’re conducting OSINT? 

Valarie Findlay: I think operationally, I mean, VPN is a VPN, I think you have to do your homework – know your requirements: what you’re going to use your VPN for, and how often. duration,  and any confidentiality or legal aspects around that.

I would to your IT department as they would likely have some recommendations in terms of what you install on a device, and how it fits with your internal architecture, depending on the size of your service.


Audience Question: Is there a map for the new Instagram Location Finder? They started doing it similarly to Snapchat. 

Valarie Findlay:  To be honest, I don’t rely on Instagram very often. So I could not answer that question. I would suggest a quick Google search will probably give you the answer. For me, it hasn’t really come up as a leading modality in some of the work that I’ve done. The mixed media stuff, photo videos, lots of text, conversation, like Facebook, and Twitter, love it – a total gold mine for social context. So, I apologize I can’t answer that question more directly.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Open Source and Social Media Intelligence: Strategies for Criminal Justice Professionals. 


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