By Stephen Adams, Product Marketing Manager, Skopenow —
Connections are the lifeblood of the internet, with people and businesses interacting and leaving digital traces across social media platforms, online marketplaces, websites, and forums at all hours of the day. For OSINT professionals, these countless interactions are not merely noise—they’re critical data points that can reveal hidden networks and relationships.
Through link analysis, OSINT practitioners are able to surface valuable insights based on online activity and public records of individuals and organizations, and use that information to generate more comprehensive intelligence. In the past, link analysis entailed manually combing through large volumes of data and spreadsheets to build association matrices, eventually shaping them into rudimentary link analysis charts. Investigators took on this painstaking work to better understand siloed datasets and identify patterns, outliers, and other links. However, with modern, automated OSINT solutions, what used to take investigators hours or even days can now be accomplished in minutes.
What is Link Analysis?
Link analysis is a visual data technique used to evaluate relationships and connections between entities, including people, businesses, objects (like properties and vehicles), and activities. The ultimate aim of link analysis is to produce an insightful, visual snapshot encompassing an entire set of raw data, using icons and links to highlight certain overlapping data points. The visual is crucial because it makes it easy to “see” relationships that would otherwise be missed by looking at the raw data itself.
Given the importance of link analysis as an OSINT technique, it’s vital to understand what a link analysis chart is and how the charts are pieced together. A link analysis chart is made up of interconnected nodes, which are points that represent an object, such as a person, place, or activity. Connecting the nodes are lines, or “links,” which represent the connections between nodes, such as a place of employment, business ownership, kinship, and other relationships. The series of nodes and links collectively represent a network.
By connecting people and businesses to shared data points, such as addresses, phone numbers, social media accounts, and vehicles, investigators can comprehend how various entities share commonalities to identify fraud or other illegal activities, quickly and efficiently.
Why Use Link Analysis?
Visual information is processed by the human brain much faster than written information, which is why link analysis is so powerful. When data is presented in sound link analysis charts, investigators and other stakeholders can more quickly understand patterns and narratives, bypassing the time and effort required to review lengthy reports or thousands of rows of data.
An example of where link analysis proves especially valuable is in auto insurance fraud and organized crime cases. With modern tooling, investigators can map out links between family groups, body shops, tow companies, rental car companies, law offices, and more. The ability to connect these dots enables investigators to efficiently identify fraudulent activities and schemes. This information can then be presented to law enforcement or a district attorney’s office as a link analysis chart in order to drive home key themes contained in the supporting evidence.
Link Analysis for OSINT Investigations and Fraud Detection
Criminals leave behind traces of digital activity when they conduct illicit activities online. These traces are often fragmented and appear unconnected at first. To link offenders to illicit activities, investigators have to connect all these traces to gain a clear picture. Applying link analysis to an array of datasets allows new connections to be detected and generates a visualization of relationships between involved parties.
Again using the example of insurance fraud investigations, carriers seek to discover false or exaggerated claims through link analysis, and often want to determine how many degrees of separation exist between the claimant and known or suspected fraudsters. The organization can then improve its processes for determining which claims they should pay out and which require further investigation, based on their risk appetite. Reducing fraud with this approach can save significant time and money for the business.
Whether it’s combating fraud, investigating criminal acts, or prosecuting threat actors, link analysis arms investigators with evidence on key relationships between the different nodes in a large network, enabling investigators and their organizations to take informed, effective action.
Scaling Link Analysis & What Success Looks Like
Organizations that adopt modern link analysis solutions are poised to detect more fraudulent and illicit activity while disrupting more offenders than they ever thought possible. Identifying the right connections, motivations, and opportunities, empowers investigators to build robust cases based on objective evidence and strong supporting narratives.
To leverage link analysis effectively across numerous, complex investigations, organizations should employ an automated link analysis solution. Automation enables investigation teams to analyze structured and unstructured data with the simple click of a button, and identify important connections hidden within enormous datasets. Understanding these connections allows investigators to turn disparate data points into actionable intelligence, leading to superior decision-making and case outcomes.
Solutions like Skopenow’s Link Analysis and Pre-Check are used by investigations teams to ingest large amounts of data, discover connections between entities contained in that data, and summarize and display associations in a simple, straightforward format. Skopenow’s offerings can support thousands of parties at once. Even better, while countless organizations struggle to justify hiring in-house investigators or perform link analysis due to the technical skills and resources required, Skopenow removes those roadblocks by automatically generating link analysis charts without the need for special training, certifications, or IT support.
Link Analysis and Pre-Check are available to start modernizing your investigations today. Request a demo and free trial today at www.skopenow.com/try to see firsthand how Skopenow can help your organization unlock the power of open-source intelligence.
About the Author
Steve is a criminal and security intelligence specialist who works with a focus on internet investigations, helping decision-makers to make informed, data-driven decisions to reduce crime. As a Product Marketing Manager at Skopenow, an emerging leader in open-source intelligence (OSINT) solutions, he drives the messaging of key features and benefits of Skopenow’s platform, helps take technology products to market, and demonstrates techniques for internet investigations.
With a background in UK law enforcement, Steve has extensive experience providing training and education in criminal and security intelligence and has supported hundreds of criminal investigations to successfully reduce crime rates and prosecute offenders. Leading OSINT training webinars and speaking at conferences in the US and UK, he frequently discusses unlocking the power of OSINT to live audiences, showing how it can be leveraged to streamline internet investigations.
Skopenow is a leading provider of comprehensive threat intelligence and OSINT solutions. The company’s investigative products are used by over 1,000 customers, including 20% of the Fortune 500 as well as numerous government and law enforcement agencies. Skopenow empowers organizations to more effectively and efficiently gather and analyze open-source information, identify trends and patterns in the data, and detect emerging threats and fraud. Founded in 2016 and headquartered in New York City, Skopenow is a high-growth, venture-backed technology company.
Skopenow works with insurance carriers, law firms, global security teams, government agencies, media companies, licensed private investigators, researchers, law enforcement agencies, and more. For more information, please visit www.skopenow.com.