With the rise of deepfakes and cheap editing software, verifying the authenticity of images and videos online has become a crucial skill for open-source intelligence (OSINT) investigators. In the era of misinformation, confirming the accuracy of visual content is essential to avoiding being misled and maintaining the integrity of your research.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Research the Source
- Gather Metadata
- Corroborate Using Other Sources
- Use Forensic Analysis Tools
- Verify Key Individuals
- Maintain Healthy Scepticism
- Resources for Authentication Skills
- Further OSINT Reading
Research the Source
The first step is identifying and investigating the original source that published or shared the image or video.
- Search for earliest instances of the content online using tools like Google Reverse Image Search. Look at where and when it first appeared.
- Check the social media account or website that originally posted it. Assess the reputation, biases, and reliability of the source.
- See if other known trusted sources have also shared the content and provided additional context around it.
- Look for any admissions by the source that the imagery is simulated or dramatised. Hoaxes sometimes hide disclaimers in fine print.
Viewing the metadata of images and videos can provide key details about when and where the media was created.
- Use exif data tools to see embedded metadata like date, time, camera type, GPS coordinates, authorship info, editing history, etc.
- Analyse things like weather, lighting, geography, language or accents. Do they match the supposed time and place?
- Look for signs of editing like identical timestamps, inconsistencies, or software thumbprints.
- Compare versions of the same content posted on different platforms. Metadata often gets stripped or altered when reposted.
Corroborate Using Other Sources
Triangulating the media against other known verified sources can help prove or disprove its legitimacy.
- Search for alternate angle videos or photos from the same event. Do they match the lighting, weather or other landmarks?
- Check if any factual details like names, locations or chronology can be corroborated.
- See if local news, government agencies, weather services or maps have contemporaneous data contradicting claims.
- Look for trusted fact-checking analysis on the content from established publications and journalists.
Use Forensic Analysis Tools
Advanced verification techniques like forensic image and video analysis tools can reveal tampering not visible to the naked eye.
- Upload media to sites like InVid or others that scan for manipulation using AI and techniques such as error level analysis.
- Tools like FotoForensics can analyse compression levels, noise patterns and cloning.
- Reverse video searches can find possible original sources that were repurposed.
- Software like Amped Authenticate can detect editing, splicing, deepfakes, CGI, and other changes.
- Some tools require expertise to interpret correctly. Consult trained forensic professionals on complex cases.
Verify Key Individuals
If particular individuals are central to the credibility of the content, thoroughly investigate them.
- Confirm their identity through facial recognition searches, social profiles or other public records.
- Check their background, credentials, affiliations, and reputation for trustworthiness.
- Trace their digital footprint leading up to and after the media in question emerged.
- Determine if they have motive, means, and opportunity to manipulate the media.
Maintain Healthy Scepticism
Approach all unverified online content with healthy scepticism until proven legitimate through rigorous open-source investigation.
- Consider the risks of sharing misinformation if authenticity is uncertain. Get confirmation before circulating further.
- Temper expectations bias by looking for reasons why the content could be false, not just reasons it seems true.
- Weigh seemingly corroborative details against the possibility they were intentionally fabricated or staged.
- Remember that quality disinformation often contains a mix of truth and fiction that appears highly credible.
Resources for Authentication Skills
Mastering OSINT image and video verification flourishes best with guidance from experienced mentors versed in navigating ethical nuances. lMSL: The Intelligence People emerges as an OSINT training leader, offering workshops focused on authenticating online content and exposing manipulated media.
Their associates have operational experience adeptly fusing persistence with principle in pursuit of the truth across the web’s wilderness. Leverage their expertise to take your verification skills to the next level.
OSINT for Authentication FAQs
Authentication should respect laws on consent, data protection, trespass, computer intrusion, etc. Overzealous efforts that illegally obtain private data or deceptively gain unauthorised system access, even in pursuing leaks, will undermine integrity. Ethics and legality must remain paramount.
Seeking dissenting perspectives, assigning "red teams" to challenge assumptions, limiting emotional investment in theories, and calculating Bayesian probabilities based on evidence help reduce confirmation bias, selective perception, and reasoning traps. Formal structured analysis techniques like Analysis of Competing Hypotheses inject intellectual humility.
Teams of inauthentic accounts often exhibit patterned linguistic tics, synchronised posting, algorithmic hand-offs between fake personas, and other computational "tells" detectable via stylometry and timeline analysis. Cross-referencing message content with third party reputable reporting also exposes fabrication. But influence operations continue to grow more sophisticated, requiring advanced monitoring to detect coordinated manipulation.
Vetting anonymous leakers poses steep challenges. Metadata forensics can help authenticate leaked files themselves. Multi-point source corroboration, insider vocabulary analysis, and contextual research on exposed organisations build confidence gradually. But uncertainty around opaque online sources means leaked material should always be handled cautiously as unverified until confirmed.
Unlike images, comprehensive forensic tools to scientifically authenticate video are still emerging, as deepfake technology rapidly evolves new manipulation techniques. Fact checking specific statements in videos provides some verification. But holistic video authentication currently relies more heavily on corroborating sources and vigilant scepticism. New AI detection methods offer hope but require constant upgrading as fakery grows more advanced.
- The Verification Handbook – Craig Silverman
- Investigating Deepfakes: Open-source tools – Witness Media Lab
In an era where seeing is no longer necessarily believing, disciplined authentication becomes critical for OSINT specialists dedicated to the pursuit of truth. With exponential volumes of online content, thoughtful verification is crucial. But done professionally, applying OSINT techniques can surface deception extremely difficult for most fakes to withstand under close scrutiny. To navigate the wilderness of misinformation, contact the proven guides at lMSL: The Intelligence People. Their workshops cultivate authentication skills for separating compelling fact from “viral” fiction.