Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 35 Issue 1
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi
OSINT plays a pivotal role in AML/CFT efforts because of its ability to harness publicly available information to uncover hidden connections and patterns within financial transactions.
In the realm of AML, OSINT aids in the identification of suspicious activities, providing investigators with a broader contextual understanding of financial behaviours. It allows for the tracking of funds across various platforms, including cryptocurrency transactions, and can reveal illicit activities that may otherwise go unnoticed.
In CFT, OSINT becomes a critical tool in identifying and disrupting the financial networks that support terrorist activities. By monitoring publicly accessible sources, analysts can pinpoint the flow of funds and connections between entities involved in these illicit activities, aiding in the prevention of terrorist financing.
OSINT and AML/CFT: An Overview
Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is a critical facet of modern information gathering and analysis, specifically focused on leveraging publicly available information from a wide range of sources. This includes data from social media, websites, government reports, news articles, and other open-access platforms.
OSINT professionals employ advanced search techniques, data mining, and analytical tools to extract valuable insights that they can use in various domains, including security, law enforcement, and financial investigations.
The primary strength of OSINT lies in its ability to provide a comprehensive view of a subject, entity, or situation, offering context and patterns that may not be clear through other means.
Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) are two interconnected facets of financial regulation and security. AML refers to the set of policies, procedures, and legal frameworks designed to prevent and detect the illegal conversion of illicitly obtained funds into legitimate assets.
This process involves the monitoring and analysis of financial transactions to identify patterns indicative of money laundering activities.
CFT focuses on disrupting the financial networks that support terrorism and other illicit activities. It involves measures aimed at identifying, tracking, and preventing the flow of funds to terrorist organisations, thwarting their ability to conduct operations.
Both AML and CFT are vital components of global efforts to combat financial crimes, safeguard the integrity of financial systems, and ultimately protect national and international security interests.
15 OSINT Tools Category for AML/CFT
Although there are several tools that an OSINT analyst can use to support AML/CFT, below there is a list of some useful instruments grouped in 15 categories.
- Google Advanced Search Operators. Google’s advanced search operators are fundamental in refining search results, enabling analysts to locate specific information efficiently. Operators like “site:”, “filetype:”, and “intitle:” allow for precise targeting of relevant data, providing a solid foundation for subsequent analysis.
- Maltego. This software is a powerful data visualisation tool that facilitates link analysis and information gathering. It allows analysts to create visual representations of relationships between entities, helping to uncover hidden connections and patterns within financial transactions. Developed by Paterva, Maltego provides both free and commercial versions, along with supplementary services, rendering it an effective tool for investigating companies, person of interest, websites, social media profiles, news sources, and even cryptocurrency transactions, throughout the creation of a visual network.
- Social Media Platforms. Social media platforms remain fertile grounds for OSINT collection. Tools like Twitter Advance Search, Facebook ID, and Picuki for Instagram enable analysts to monitor public profiles and track user interactions and connectios.
- Shodan is a specialised search engine that scans and indexes internet-connected devices. AML/CFT professionals can use Shodan to identify vulnerable systems or uncover potential channels for illicit activities, such as cryptocurrency mining operations or unsecured financial services.
- Blockchain Explorers. In cryptocurrency-related investigations, blockchain explorers like BitcoinWhoisWho, WalletExplorer and Etherscan offer valuable insights into transactions, wallet addresses, and associated metadata. These tools are indispensable for tracking the flow of funds and identifying suspicious patterns.
- Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine is an invaluable resource for accessing archived web pages. AML/CFT analysts can utilise it to trace the historical evolution of websites, providing a crucial context for understanding the origins and evolution of potentially illicit activities.
- Public Records Databases. Access to public records databases, such as property records, business registries, sanctions lists, and court filings, can yield vital information about individuals and entities involved in financial transactions. Websites like PACER and OpenCorporates provide extensive repositories of legal and financial data. OpenSanctions constitutes an extensive repository of worldwide sanctions and watchlist data crucial for rigorous screening processes regarding sanctioned parties, politically exposed persons (PEPs), and other entities of elevated risk.
- Google Earth and Street View. Analysts can explore physical locations associated with suspicious companies or transactions thanks to Google Earth and Street View. Thess tools can help to verify addresses, identifying potential fronts, and uncovering hidden assets. Although Google Earth and Street View are some of the most well-known tools regarding geolocalisation, also DualMap can support research activities.
- Domain Name Registration Databases. Tools like Who.is and WhoisDomainTools offer insights into the ownership and registration details of internet domains. Analysts can leverage this information to uncover relationships between entities, identify potential shell companies, and trace the origins of suspicious websites.
- Dark Web Search Engines. Specialised search engines like Ahmia facilitates access to parts of the internet not indexed by traditional search engines. AML/CFT professionals can utilise these tools to monitor underground markets, forums, and illicit activities for potential leads by using TOR Browser.
- Language Translation Tools. Given the global nature of financial crimes, language translation tools like Google Translate or DeepL are indispensable for analysts dealing with non-English sources. They facilitate the extraction of critical information from documents or communications in foreign languages.
- Vessel and Airplane Finder. Vessel Finder, Marine Traffic, and FlightRadar24 offer dynamic, real-time tracking capabilities for both vessels and airplanes, coupled with extensive maritime and flight data. It serves as a vital resource for risk professionals in evaluating associated risks pertinent to Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance, enabling the gathering of critical information for assessing potential involvement in illicit trade, smuggling activities, or violations of sanctions.
- The ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database. It serves as a repository of leaked documents compiled by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). These documents shed light on offshore entities, revealing previously concealed structures and potential ties to money laundering. The database plays a crucial role in uncovering beneficial owners and establishing connections with offshore entities that may be implicated in illicit financial activities, providing invaluable insights for AML professionals and investigators.
- The OCCRP Investigative Dashboard. Established by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), offers compliance and risk professionals access to a comprehensive suite of investigative tools and data. This encompasses a wealth of resources, including company records, public documents, and news articles. Such information proves instrumental in conducting thorough AML investigations and evaluating business partners, customers, or entities involved in financial transactions. This tool empowers professionals to make well-informed decisions and assess potential risks associated with various entities within their operations.
- News aggregator. NewsNow offers analysts a valuable resource by granting access to an extensive array of articles, enabling them to closely monitor keywords pertaining to a specific organization or event. Upon registration, users have the flexibility to customise this platform to align with their individual requirements and objectives. This adaptability ensures that analysts can tailor their news feed to receive the most relevant and timely information, empowering them to stay abreast of critical developments in their chosen areas of interest.
In conclusion, integrating OSINT activities into AML/CFT endeavours is not merely a choice but a necessity in the ever-evolving landscape of financial crime prevention. The dynamic nature of illicit financial activities demands a proactive approach, and OSINT provides a crucial edge in staying ahead of emerging threats.
By harnessing the wealth of information available in open sources, AML/CFT professionals can uncover hidden connections, track suspicious transactions, and ultimately contribute significantly to the mitigation of financial crimes.
Moreover, it is essential to train and educate workers in the financial sector on effectively exploiting open sources. This equips them with the skills and knowledge needed to navigate the complex world of open sources, enabling them to conduct more robust due diligence, identify potential risks, and bolster the resilience of financial institutions against the pervasive threats of money laundering and terrorist financing.
In an era where information is a potent tool, investing in OSINT proficiency is an imperative step towards safeguarding the integrity and stability of global financial systems.
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