Israeli open-source intelligence (OSINT) company Cobwebs Technologies will be the lead sponsor at Dubai’sISS World Middle EastConferencefrom 28 February to 2 March, indicating the growing importance of the sector within the intelligence community. OSINT has been more and more present at major conferences and fairs in technology and intelligence. In 2013, at ISS Europe, only three companies offered OSINT technology: Kapow Technologies, AREA, SAIL Labs. At the 2021 conference, there were three times as many: Hensoldt, Babel Street, Siren, Blackdot Solutions, Social Links, Facepoint, FutureSpace, Systran and Constella Intelligence. Cobwebs was also heavily promoted at the Milipol security show in Paris in October.
This type of company is certainly easier to show off at big fairs; such firms do not have the same issues with discretion as do cyber-intelligence companies like Israeli Candiru, which remained completely anonymous for a very long time. There is also a higher demand for this technology, easier for intelligence agencies to acquire than interception devices. OSINT is not as political sensitive and does not have to comply to the same regulations. It is thus less complicated to sell abroad. For example, Israeli cyberattack specialists cannot export their technology to Ukraine, because the state export control agency would consider this a form of support during war. But there are no regulations against exporting OSINT to Kyiv. In June, Ukraine’s intelligence agency, the SBU, acquired a system develpped by Israeli Rayzone Group and ULTRA .
West jumping on the bandwagon
Western countries are licking their lips over the financial opportunities and data acquisition capabilities OSINT can provide. In Australia, Fivecast, run by Brenton Cooper, ex-BAE Systems, provides regular service to the ministries of defence and of home affairs and receives money from two public funds. The CSIRO Innovation Fund, part of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the South Australian Venture Capital Fund invested in the company in 2019.
In France, Aleph Networks, which assists foreign intelligence agency DGSE and the Gendarmerie Nationale on dark web missions, received funding from the Direction générale de l’armement (DGA) through a state-funded ‘RAPID’ grant. Aleph, based in Lyon, has a growing presence on the clear web and recently launched a search engine for the surfance web. In October, start-up Owlint joined the French interest group Cercle de l’arbalète. Owlint also regularly works with the ministries of armed forces and environmental transition. Luxembourg-based TaDaweb nontheless remains the leader in OSINT in France. According to our information, TaDaweb supplies the DGSE, the Gendarmerie and the Commandement de la cyberdéfense (Comcyber).
In the United States, Babel Street has close ties to the armed forces and has grown closer to the intelligence community there. Its new board of advisers, named in July, includes Robert Ashley, ex-director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
While intelligence agencies want data that is more and more precise, OSINT businesses try to met their demands, to such a point that this passive technology becomes actively involved in targeting support. This has been the case for Swiss Digital Clues, founded by Mati Kochavi, a pioneer in exporting Israeli cyber know-how to the Emirates. Bought in October by Israeli Cellebrite, Digital Clues deals specifically with the reconnaissance that precede cyberattacks and provides its clients with their targets’ telephone numbers and IMSI and IMEI login data. Israeli Espy works in the area of mass profiling on a state scale, using personal data from billions of users of targeted networks.
This technological one-upmanship is bringing a lot of attention to the sector. In a 16 December report published by Facebook on cyber intelligence, it placed Cobwebs on the same level as cyber-offensive companies like Cognyte and Belltrox.