In a world where we are increasingly focused on Internet-based resources, it is of little surprise that it can provide a wealth of information collection opportunities and support wider intelligence analysis and decision making. Recent studies have highlighted that the US and allies are currently someway behind leveraging “open-source” information in comparison to China and other Nation States, partly due to difference in definition and associated legislation. Regardless, the internet and the utilisation of information that can be derived from it at all levels, will continue to be essential to creating a World leading intelligence capability.
However, with this increased focus, there are also risks associated with this source of information, and for organisations whose sources are limited, there is often a situationally forced over-reliance on this as a source. As analysts it is key that we fully understand these risks and the wider impact on effective intelligence analysis as a result.
Three main areas to consider when conducting Internet based research are Mis, Dis and Mal – information. Misinformation is the term we hear frequently and often everything deemed to be ‘fake news’ is labelled as misinformation, however there are distinct differences between the three.
This can best be defined as the sharing of inaccurate information without the intent to cause harm. For example, false quotes, reviews – however they have been shared due to the reader believing them to be accurate and can often go viral quite quickly.
This is false information, which is deliberately spread to deceive the audience, this could be seen to discredit official personnel or organisations with the intent to cause harm. These examples will be more co-ordinated than misinformation, to have more of an impact. Use of bots can increase the range of this disinformation. Monitoring by cyber security companies, such as Radware, during the COVID-19 pandemic identified a large increase in the use of bots to share fake COVID-19 stories.
This is the use of information that is factual but used deliberately to cause harm. For example, phishing attacks or the deliberate release of private personal information online (doxxing).
Events over recent years have highlighted the use of internet research and resources and the benefits it can have. These benefits are particularly valuable when providing insight into events that members of the public would not typically have access to. The ability to live stream on social media platforms has allowed people to follow coverage of events as and when they happen and to also provide a narrative and commentary around these events. As an intelligence analyst this source of information can be extremely useful, there is no requirement to task assets, it’s cost-effective and quick to gather. A key characteristic of being an intelligence analyst, is to think critically – it can be easy to take information found during internet research at face-value, particularly when deemed to be from a more ‘credible’ outlet or during times of crisis where it fits what we may expect to see. For example, as the Russian – Ukraine war has continued, Twitter has been awash with footage / imagery from the conflict with false Russian claims. A number of fact-checking organisations, such as Bellingcat, have taken steps to disprove these claims using Open-Source tools. However, to a general member of the public examples of disinformation, such as this, can quickly spread and easily be taken as reliable and credible. These cases have highlighted the risks of Internet based collection and the requirement to apply critical thinking when using this as in information source.
As intelligence analysts the availability of Internet-based collection is an extremely useful resource, although, as with any source, we must manage risk and over dependence. Intelligence analysts in sectors ranging from Law Enforcement, Defence, Local Authorities, Finance, Insurance and wider private sector organisations can use this source to support in in their analysis and wider decision-making at a level that can be widely shared within intelligence environments. However, a key consideration when using internet derived information is to understand the risks associated with it, particularly mis, dis and mal-information. Critical thinking is a key characteristic of an analyst and as such we should also consider the impact that bias can also have when conducting Internet research – technical bias, confirmation bias and availability bias are all significant factors that can skew effective evaluation of the information received. Over-dependency is also another factor to consider, in reality many organisations may be limited to solely Internet-based collection as a source of information, however corroboration and evaluation of this information is key to produce effective and accurate intelligence outputs.
On the L4 Intelligence Analyst Apprenticeship we develop analysts to understand a range of intelligence sources and factors to be taken into consideration when planning, collecting and conducting analysis. We develop analytical techniques that help to provide confidence in source reliability and credibility, yet arguably more importantly, we develop essential skills such as critical thinking and recognition of analytical bias, that assist in understanding the risks associated with Internet based collection and the impact it can have on our wider analysis and decision making.
This innovative Standard was developed to provide a recognised and robust pathway for Intelligence Analysts that would allow for parity across sectors and comprehensive development of all knowledge, skills and behaviours associated with being an effective and competent Intelligence Analyst.
For more information on the Level 4 Intelligence Analyst Apprenticeship Standard, visit https://www.intelligenciatraining.com/intelligence-analyst/ or book a meeting online via https://www.intelligenciatraining.com/meeting/.