In our previous article on OSINT, we discussed what open-source intelligence is and why you would use it. As a follow-up, we are now going to talk about how you verify information once you’ve collected it.
Let’s say through some searching you come across a piece of interesting news on social media with photos regarding an area you will be traveling to. How do you know it’s legitimate? How do you know it actually happened in the location being referenced?
Fortunately, through a little legwork, you may be able to validate or dismiss what you are looking at. Let’s look at a few things you can do to verify social media information or sources.
Social Media Verification
A quick visual inspection can a lot of times discredit the information you are receiving. Looking at things like street signs, vehicles, identifiable terrain, physical landmarks, people, etc., can help collaborate whether a photo is legitimate or not.
Another simple method, although not always available, is using geography. Basically, you use geographic features, manmade or natural, and compare them to what is in a photo or video.
If a photo or video is cited as being from a particular location, you can attempt to use a tool like Google Street View to compare what’s in the photo/video to Street View images. Street View is not always accurate, so keep that in mind as new construction, etc., may not always be displayed.
Weather conditions can be cross-referenced by using tools such as Wolfram Alpha to ask “What the weather was at a specific location on a specific day”. This information can be compared to what is in the photo or video to help verify the date information.
Image checks (Reverse Image Searches)
There are various tools you can use to see if videos or images have been previously posted online (reverse image searches). This can help you determine if it is original content or something grabbed online somewhere else.
If you are dealing with YouTube videos, you can use YouTube Data Viewer to extract thumbnails to use in reverse image searches. Once the video URL is entered, it will provide basic video information as well as the thumbnail images. Simply use those thumbnail images in your reverse image searches.
Most, not all, modern devices like cameras and smartphones embed metadata (EXIF) into the image files. Keep in mind, social media platforms often remove this information. However, if you are able to obtain this info, you are in luck.
You can then reference the photo’s metadata, to see if it matches up. Although images may not always contain location information, it’ something simple to check. If you are unfamiliar with this process, a quick Google search will tell you all you need to know.
You can use a tool like PIC2Map to help find where a photo was taken. In PIC2Maps’s own words, “Can’t remember the location where you took a picture with your camera or smartphone? Upload your photos and find out where they were taken. Pic2Map analyzes EXIF data embedded in the image to find the GPS coordinates and location. The result would be a map view of your photo with a detailed address and additional EXIF information if available.”
You basically just drag and drop the photo to begin searching. If the data is there, it will provide a map view and give you the location of where the pic was taken.
Contact the source
Odd as it may seem, you can always go directly to the “source” and ask some followup questions as to the authenticity. Sometimes, this can lead down a rabbit hole of trying to find the original source.
For a pretty comprehensive list of verification tools, go here. Another resource I like to reference from time to time is the Verification Handbook. Their tool list offers a lot of good links in an easy to access place. It’s worth adding to your bookmarks.
OSINT Essentials also offers links to a lot of “mostly” free tools and services that are useful for online verification, digital journalism, and open-source intelligence work. It’s worth a look as well.
If you would like to see some of this put into practice, check out this link.
Again, this is just a primer and barely scratches the surface of this topic. There are folks out there who are experts at this and have techniques and methods that are over my head. This is just what I do and why I do it.
If you have any suggestions or methods you use, feel free to share. Also, let me know if you would like me to expand on this topic in the future.