January 18, 2024

Exploiting the Dark Web: Unleashing the Power of Open Source Intelligence

The world of intelligence gathering has evolved significantly, especially with the emergence of the dark web. Open-source intelligence (OSINT) encompasses a wide range of data sources, such as social media feeds and commercial data, providing a holistic view of global activities. While OSINT has been utilized before, efforts to standardize it have gained traction, including the establishment of the OSINT Foundation to advocate for professionalization and training. This article delves into the critical role of the dark web in the intelligence community and highlights its benefits, risks, and legal considerations.

A Place of Misconceptions

Contrary to popular belief, the dark web is not inherently nefarious; the U.S. government initially funded it to establish a safe space for people to access information without fear of censorship. However, due to the space's anonymous nature, threat actors take advantage of it to engage in illegal practices, making it a focus of interest for intelligence agencies. These threats include drug trafficking, child exploitation, human trafficking, and communication channels for rogue states. However, the benefits of OSINT on the dark web extend beyond counteracting these threats; it serves as a platform that can enable government agencies to achieve mission objectives effectively and make informed decisions.

Technology and Barriers

Investigators need specialized technology to venture into the dark web. The most commonly known darknet is Tor, which can be accessed by downloading a separate browser. Other darknets like I2P, Hyphanet (formerly Freenet), and Zeronet necessitate additional configurations for proper anonymity. While download accessibility poses risks to government systems, technological advancements such as virtual machines and misattribution platforms minimize exposure and provide a secure channel for accessing the dark web.

Navigating Legal and Regulatory Considerations

While accessing the dark web is legal, each government agency conducts its own legal assessments to determine the permissible level of engagement. Government policies are rapidly evolving to acknowledge the importance of OSINT and its application in the dark web. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) provides guidance to assist agencies in understanding the legal boundaries and developing training programs to harness these capabilities effectively.

However, successful utilization of the dark web requires a three-pronged approach: technical capabilities, comprehensive training, and supportive policy frameworks. Agencies must equip their analysts with the necessary skills to navigate the dark web effectively and synthesize the overwhelming volume of data available. Through its expertise, tools like DarkBlue and DarkPursuit, and adherence to policies, CACI aims to enable government agencies to achieve information advantage securely and anonymously.

Embracing OSINT

The dark web stands as a realm of untapped potential for maneuvering the intelligence landscape. The convergence of technology, training, and policy is paramount to harnessing its benefits while maintaining security and complying with legal considerations.

As the intelligence community progresses towards embracing OSINT and fully appreciating the power of the dark web, agencies have an opportunity to gain a significant information advantage, ultimately serving national security interests and protecting citizens against emerging threats. Bluestone Analytics emphasizes the significance of unclassified information available in the public domain.

Interested in learning more? Check out this interview with the Head of Bluestone Analytics, Cory Everington, and the Director of Strategy and Growth at CACI, Jim Schrant, on the Federal News Network.