OSINT Due Diligence: Enhancing Business Resilience in a Geopolitical Landscape - ShadowDragon.io

OSINT Due Diligence: Enhancing Business Resilience in a Geopolitical Landscape

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The need for deeper insights through due diligence is a must as modern businesses evolve with the changing landscape of compliance needs.

Invisible lines are being drawn through sovereign borders and digital spaces. Russian President Vladimir Putin put into motion a conflation of state-on-state conflict and competition that is rapidly expanding on the battlefield and within trade. Victims and vulnerabilities expand beyond the battlefield. Parts of global commerce are in jeopardy as round after round of sanctions are leveled against Russia and its complicit state benefactors – namely China and Iran. The good news? Information to protect businesses and make informed decisions is in the open – you just need to know where to look.

Sanctions were meant to prevent another conflict following World War I. In 1919, internationalist and then United States President Woodrow Wilson described this ‘economic weapon’ as “something more tremendous than war,” meant to isolate a provocative nation and retreat from whatever unsavory action they were engaged in. Isolation is not so easy nowadays.

Sanctions have traditionally targeted direct links to illegal weapons, commodities, or individuals who pose an out-sized risk to state interests. As the world reverts and refines the last three decades of globalization, governments and industry alike are attempting to impose their interests without further escalation in an already dangerous world. The West has leveled unprecedented amounts of sanctions against Russia and Russian entities. The Biden Administration took steps to sanction Russian companies that were peddling online influence, along with adversarial software companies that may be sharing sensitive information with Moscow, a particularly muddled situation. The European Union is now debating sanctions against Russian entities ahead of elections that have the ability to disseminate disinformation. The European Union is not only targeting Russian entities, but “proposing to ban political parties, think tanks and other groups from accepting funding from Russia as part of its next round of sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow over its war on Ukraine.” These actions are highly complex and have far-reaching implications not only for governments, but for multinational companies who bare the biggest financial and legal burden as they must quickly disengage business operations from newly sanctioned individuals or entities.

While Russia is now the most sanctioned country in the world, sanctions are not isolated to the most acute global antagonist of today. US Treasury Secretary Yellen has threatened to sanction Chinese banks that buy Russian oil and supply Russian troops with weapons and munitions used against Ukraine. Iranian sanctions have expanded after selling oil to China and drones to Russia.

Companies must now learn to mitigate the threats in this dynamic landscape. Compliance divisions, threat intelligence teams, and supply chain risk management departments (just to name a few) must remain ahead of political and economic sentiment. It is no longer enough to hold an MBA from a top school, business leaders must also be able to navigate treacherous geopolitical environments. Open-Source Intelligence, or OSINT, offers unique capabilities to mitigate sanctions risks. From simply searching individuals or entities on OFAC and SDN lists to integrating commercially available information or Internet Protocol (IP) addresses in OSINT and link analysis platforms, OSINT offers rare signals in a noisy world using Publicly Available Information (PAI).

In 2019, the Financial Times reported on the Trump Administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran. Former State Department leader for the Iran Action Group, Brian Hook, sent an email to an unsuspecting oil tanker captain, Akhilesh Kumar, attempting to persuade the captain to pilot the ship to “a country that would impound the vessel on behalf of the US” for carrying Iranian oil to the intended destination. Mr. Hook offered the captain several million dollars from the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program. The tanker did “doughnut” maneuvers at sea until it ultimately shut off its transponder and most likely conducted a ship-to-ship transfer off the coast of Syria. The combination of geospatial imagery, maritime data, and social media information can inform companies of situations like this before they happen – all publicly available and conducted with OSINT methodologies and tools.

The Iranian oil example above is detailed in a recent book by Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman, Underground Empire: How America Weaponized the World Economy, and had this to say about the private sector following the Iranian tanker example: “This creates a whole new kind of political risk for business. The networks that facilitate global commerce – information, production, and money – have themselves become a source of corporate vulnerability. As other governments discover the pressure points, it’s hard for business to stay neutral.”

The authors go on to say that “for decades, businesses thought that political risk meant developing countries rewriting the rules or seizing their assets. Now, they are coming to understand that powerful, wealthy countries present the greatest risks. Those that fail to realize this may capsize.” 2019 seems like a generation ago – and the world is not getting safer and there are only more sanctions to look out for today.

Geopolitical fissures are changing the way international commerce is conducted. There are many ways to stay ahead of the curve. More information is either publicly or commercially available every day and able to integrate into ShadowDragon’s Horizon OSINT platform to synthesize and visualize vulnerabilities within supply chains, giving any company the information needed to informed decisions.


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