What is Crowdsourcing Intelligence?
As the rapidly evolving digital landscape continues to change the security industry, capitalising on a society that views the world through their phone is key to situational awareness. Intelligence Fusion's CEO explains how and why we're using crowdsourced intelligence to enhance our threat intelligence solutions.
The revolution in information technology has meant that the world is more interconnected than ever before. We have easy access to a range of devices that are able to capture text, images, audio and video of events or incidents and share them across platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Periscope, Telegram as well as Intelligence Fusion.
Comparing the unveiling of Pope Benedict in 2005 and Pope Francis in 2013 and the increased use of technology to capture major events and incidents in the modern age.
What is crowdsourced intelligence?
Crowdsourcing intelligence is the act of a large group of people, typically the general public, working together to share information. When used as part of threat intelligence collection, it helps build a complete and comprehensive picture of a security event or incident to understand what has happened and why.
Crowdsourced intelligence can be beneficial for providing alternative viewpoints from collaborators of different backgrounds, local context from those who may be witnessing an incident first-hand and eliminating bias.
- Crowdsourced intelligence is the action of tapping into the collective knowledge of the public on a large scale.
- Collective intelligence is shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and collective efforts of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making.
- Crowdvoting is when a website gathers a large group’s opinions and judgements on a certain topic.
- Crowdsolving is a collaborative way of solving a problem using many people. It is a type of crowdsourcing with focus on complex and intellectually demanding problems requiring considerable effort, and quality/uniqueness of contribution.
- Crowdsearching is the process of crowdsourcing the location of things, be they pets, items or people.
What is the value of crowdsourced intelligence?
Private intelligence is a relatively new service in the private sector. Historically, it was only large corporates who could afford this type of support however, with advances in technology, threat intelligence solutions are now much more affordable.
Intelligence has evolved from solely using internal teams of analysts to gather, process and disseminate intelligence in report format to delivering information via software solutions and introducing technology such as artificial intelligence and data mining.
We believe the next evolution in intelligence is the use of global crowdsourced networks. Fused with our current methods of data scraping and an internal team or 24/7 intelligence analysts, we can create a far bigger and more consistent data set.
I became convinced of the power of crowdsourcing when I was working in Basra in 2011. At the time, I was connected to other intelligence analysts and security managers in the province via a group chat on Skype. If I received an initial report of an incident, for example, an explosion in the city, I would report and share those details with others in our group chat. This was reciprocated by other members of the group.
Throughout the day, as people began to hear other snippets of information, we would constantly share updates within the chat. The information would be collated and together, we’d achieve a consensus as to what happened and why.
It was during this time that I knew I wanted to create a platform that was built specifically for the purpose of crowdsourcing information globally as well as disseminating large quantities of complex data in a user-friendly environment.
How does Intelligence Fusion use crowdsourced intelligence?
Creating an active and engaged crowdsourcing network is a long process. There must be an element of trust, for both us and the users. We need to know that the network we’ve built is dedicated as well as reliable, but they also need to know what we’re doing with their data and be rightly credited for their contribution. As a user, you also need to trust that the addition of crowdsourced intelligence will bring you greater value and will not have a negative impact on the integrity of our current data set.
We’re currently in phase one of building our network, which was the build and deployment of a Discord server. If you aren’t aware of Discord, it’s an instant messaging and digital distribution platform. Users can communicate with each other using voice calls, video calls and text-based messages privately or as part of communities called “servers”.
Our Discord environment was set up as a way to even further evolve our understanding of the global threat intelligence picture by getting support and insight from intelligence professionals and OSINT enthusiasts. We encourage our community to post news or updates as they find them, share their own thoughts and opinions, contribute to discussions, and interact with fellow members.
In return, we share exclusive content including breaking news stories, incident developments as well as the opinion and expert analysis. Our threat intelligence community can engage with our team, ask questions and request further information.
Because of our threat intelligence community’s contribution, you’ll benefit from greater insights as well as deeper context and an increase in speed. Every piece of information is still moderated and processed into actionable intelligence by our internal analysts and because our expert team are evaluating large quantities of data, they can see both the tactical and strategic picture in their areas of intelligence responsibility, improving the quality of their assessment.
The collection, processing and dissemination workflow of Intelligence Fusion:
The growth of our community has proved the concept of crowdsourced intelligence. On occasion, new incidents have been shared within minutes of occurring and sometimes even before they’ve been identified by our analysts. Our members have also helped build our understanding of an incident, by working with us to swarm an incident and provide additional context.
How does crowdsourcing intelligence work?
To ensure that we receive a consistent feed of information from our threat intelligence community, we need to keep our members motivated. And to do this, there has to be a transaction of value between our network and us.
In exchange for reporting new incidents, further updates or additional context to us, our crowdsourced network get exclusive access to our analyst team who contribute to discussions, share their opinion or assessment as well as notify users of breaking news regularly.
Eventually, we hope to build a freemium version of our platform that our OSINT community can access for free if they submit incidents to us. They’ll get limited access to features in comparison to our paid subscribers, however, they will be able to unlock additional tools and capability by being regular reporters.
Because all information will still need to be moderated, the information they submit will also be graded by our team using a standard military technique that judges the reliability and credibility of the information. Community members who have an overall higher ranking for consistently sharing trustworthy data will be granted a greater level of access. For the user, they’re getting access to one of the foremost intelligence data sets globally, and in return, we’re receiving incident data that we’re yet to identify. It helps with the global breadth of our reporting but also the depth of our incident data.
The information reported by our crowdsourced intelligence network will always be supplemented by our highly-trained analysts. But their contribution can provide additional capabilities such as additional languages and local context – all of which are invaluable to our clients.
How do you guarantee the quality of crowdsourced intelligence?
We ensure the integrity of our data through training and best practices in intelligence doctrine, as well as technical means.
We have our own internal intelligence training programme, which all of our operations team must take part in as part of their onboarding. The training includes The Intelligence Cycle, with emphasis on the processing phase which includes evaluation of sources.
From a technical perspective, we’ve built a moderation area within our threat intelligence platform. Every incident that is reported by our threat intelligence community (and that identified by our datamining technology) must be moderated and approved by an analyst before it’s sent to you as an alert.
Every incident on our platform must also have at least one source of information to ensure accuracy, which we upload alongside the incidents for our clients to view. By providing our clients with our references they then also have the due diligence to review where our incident data came from.
Finally, we’ve mentioned the process of grading information in terms of reliability and credibility. For example, if we receive a tweet regarding an incident but this is the first time we’ve seen any information from this Twitter handle, we’d initially grade them as an F for Reliability. That means that their reliability cannot be judged because we currently have no other data to make a comparison.
However, if we receive more information from them at a later date, we would adjust that Reliability rating as appropriate. We also grade the Credibility of the information from 1 to 6. A grading of 1 means that the information was confirmed by other sources whereas 6 means that the truth cannot be judged.
By using this scale we can actively track how reliable sources are, as well as the credibility of the information they provide. Whilst the majority of incidents we report on our platform will likely come from news media or social media, as we move to reporting directly from the source through crowdsourcing, this source grading capability will help us to ensure the integrity of data.
What's an example of crowdsourcing being used in action?
A basic example of crowdsourced intelligence being used in action is when a high profile attack occurs. Before having our OSINT community, the entire Intelligence Fusion team would work together to collate as much information as possible. Initially, the first analyst to identify the incident sends out a company-wide message and report the early details to our clients via our open-source intelligence platform. The rest of the team would then begin to swarm the incident to ensure we can provide our clients with clarity and context as quickly as possible. The idea being that many hands make light work and we can quickly get to grips with what happened, as well as providing additional context and the ‘So What?’ analysis.
The crowdsourcing collection and dissemination process used by Intelligence Fusion:
Through the crowdsourcing of intelligence, we plan to globalise this process. For instance, if a terrorist attack occurs, usually numerous threads begin to appear on Reddit and the platform’s millions of users will provide links and further details on what they’ve discovered using open-sources. However, Reddit is not a platform that’s been designed for the collation of this type of data.
When these incidents take place, there’s a significant duplication of effort in both the public and private sector. Companies, organisations, military, police and security services are all collecting the same information about the same incident. Duplication of effort can be considerably reduced with our crowdsourcing approach.
By creating a central node around which all the above organisations can gather, this’ll allow for the rapid collation and processing of information regarding the incident, as well as ensuring that accurate information is cascaded as quickly as possible.
Who else can benefit from crowdsourcing intelligence?
Crowdsourcing for the Common Good
Crowdsourced intelligence has also proven to be highly beneficial for causes such as missing people and identifying the perpetrators of serious crimes. Europol, for an example, have an initiative called ‘Stop Child Abuse – Trace An Object’.
On the website it states;
‘The most innocent clues can sometimes help crack a case. The objects are all taken from the background of an image with sexually explicit material involving minors. For all images below, every other investigative avenue has already been examined. Therefore we are requesting your assistance in identifying the origin of some of these objects. We are convinced that more eyes will lead to more leads and will ultimately help to save these children.’
This is an example of an initiative that we’d like to support through our own approach to crowdsourcing intelligence. With a global network of users, we can tap into their collective knowledge and assist in the identification some of those objects or locations, consequently helping Europol identify offenders and prevent child abuse.
Google-owned Waze, who provide satellite navigation software, has reportedly over 100 million users and is described as the world’s largest community-based traffic navigation app.
They state on their website;
‘Imagine millions of drivers out on the roads, working together towards a common goal: to outsmart traffic and get everyone the best route to work and back, every day.’
The idea behind this is, the more people who provide data the more accurate it will be.
The same principle can be applied to intelligence. The more people providing data regarding global security threats, the more accurate the data will be.
Crowdsourcing in Other Sectors
Crowdsourcing is not just limited to intelligence and threat data. There’s a great example of crowdsourcing in the mining sector too.
In 2000, Goldcorp founder Rob McEwen launched the Goldcorp Challenge, sharing with the public the company’s geological data with the offer of $575,000 in prizes to those who could help locate Red Lake mine’s next six million ounces of gold. The challenge was successful, with more than 110 sites identified and more than 80 per cent of sites yielding significant gold reserves. The challenge helped turn the company from a struggling enterprise into one of the most profitable in the industry.
Whilst perhaps an extreme example, it proves the potential of crowdsourcing. You can improve the quality of your data, tap into the collective intelligence of users or employees across the globe, achieve consensus of opinion and even solve complex issues using this unique approach.
Whilst we’re still at the early stages of crowdsourcing journey, it’s already proving invaluable.
As part of Intelligence Fusion’s product development roadmap, the next 12 months will see us start the work required to launch our freemium platform. Once it’s live, this will further improve the experience of our community by enabling us to better reward their efforts, whilst simultaneously improve the quality, speed and depth of data for our clients.
In the meantime, our Discord channel is growing every day. With an active network of engaged OSINT professionals and enthusiasts, you can be a part of a like-minded community and contribute to the wider work of Intelligence Fusion. Get your exclusive invite today by joining up to our mailing list.