In a world of infinite online information, growing online crime and corruption, Cobwebs Technologies is on the front line of technology to make the world a safer place.
Cobwebs Technologies was founded in 2015 with the vision to power open-source intelligence with AI. With a team of experts with military and intelligence backgrounds, Cobwebs delivers solutions to meet the operational needs of national security agencies and the private sector, identifying threats quickly.
Eyal Bachar, managing director, North America at Cobwebs, said that significant developments in the online world in recent years has brought both a wealth of opportunity, but also great risks and dangers to society.
“Reflecting on the financial sector 20 to 30 years ago, for example, it was very traditional. You could access your bank account or make a transaction through your in-person branch. Now, everything is online and accessible.”
Unfortunately, this provides vast opportunities for bad actors to leverage this technology, for example for illicit activity hackers to interfere, or to avoid sanctions and for money laundering to take place.
“It is very much like a game of cat and mouse. Security and technology are trying to provide the tools to protect the entity, whilst advanced hackers are trying to find the next weakness or vulnerability to every tool introduced.”
What Cobwebs is doing, Bachar continued, is trying to close that gap of awareness in terms of threat intelligence. The online world is also an asymmetric one, in terms of the imbalance between the entities trying to protect themselves and the bad actors looking for vulnerabilities to explore. Bachar calls this the “wild west era” of the online world.
The role of open-source intelligence
Over the last few years, law enforcement executives and other organisations have increasingly adopted open-source intelligence (OSINT) technology as the missing piece in the fight to protect communities from crime and online threats.
As the name suggests, OSINT is produced from information that is available for public consumption. Organisations are discovering how integrating OSINT into other investigative solutions and tactics can provide critical insights in the most accessible ways, to enhance the investigative work that is already being done.
Organisations are ramping up their usage of automated OSINT technologies to become more efficient investigators and analysts and to fill gaps that understaffed agencies are experiencing. Cobwebs has noted that an “OSINT for Good” trend has emerged recently, and this is expected to continue through 2023 and beyond, with safety-focused philanthropic organisations beginning to embrace the need for open-source intelligence as well.
“Open source in general is anything which is available to the public,” Bachar said, “If you go into your browser and go into a forum, as long as its set to public, you can access it. This can be a news website such as the CNN or BBC, or a public Discord channel discussing a particular topic that becomes a type of meeting room where people exchange ideas.”
These types of forums are often used and exploited for extremism, international fraud, terror financing or human trafficking. According to Bachar, although most of the population are using these forums for legal uses – exchanging information and entertainment, a bad actor will always try to hide himself and get into these boards to exchange information within the group.
“We know that cryptocurrencies for example, have been leveraged to avoid sanctions, because of its anonymity,” Bachar continued. By its very nature, cryptocurrency is built for transparency, this is the nature of the blockchain. Blockchain is a further example of the term OSINT, it is open-source information that can generate intelligence or awareness used by bad actors.
Suspicious actors that are trading on the dark web for malware software or underage illicit images often fund these transactions with cryptocurrencies because its anonymised. “And to some degree, this also avoids the legacy banking system’s protocols such as KYC processes and auditing,” Bachar added.
Cobwebs simplifies the access and awareness to these sources of information, which are not easily accessible or easy understood by analysts. There is also a need to protect identity when investigating an online dark web marketplace that is selling contraband. “This is where Cobwebs is bridging the gap between the need to conduct online research to generate awareness and the need to automate and expedite access to this kind of information.”
AI also has a significant role to play in making the online world safer. Although it is not a solution in itself, Bachar said it can act as a “force multiplier”. Cobwebs automates the delivery of prioritised intelligent insights. Its agile machine learning algorithms scan textual and unstructured public information over infinite sources of surface, deep and dark web data, to detect potential threats supporting time critical decision made by organisations.
“AI can make you much more effective in what you do. It can’t replace the analyst , but it can analyse faster over much large data set to provide polished insights in a way that is much more digestible, to therefore be able to take immediate action. It’s also highly effective to detect and float patterns related to unknown threats.”
An asymmetric world
The biggest challenge facing the cybersecurity industry and CyberTech industry today, according to Bachar, is the asymmetry between entities and bad actors in the online world. “For any one specific brand or company, there are 100 other potential illicit actors trying to exploit a vulnerability. Someone is always a threat.”
Further, there is no “steady state” in the digital space today, Bachar continued, everything is constantly changing and evolving. Every day there is a new evolution or development, and the “bad actors” are getting more sophisticated and advanced every year.
“This means for companies, being proactive about potential threats and vulnerabilities is crucial,” Bachar said. “The world is constantly changing, and you have to make sure that you are fit to face the new challenge in the market.”
Aside from being proactive, Bachar stressed the importance of investing heavily in research. “At Cobwebs, we are investing a lot into research. Any technology company that is not doing that, and asking themselves how they can take their tools to the next level and address new challenges for customers, will be left behind.”
Cobwebs is constantly on the lookout for technology related to the digital space to learn how that can be leveraged to enhance its offering and adapt accordingly. “It is crucial that we are keeping ourselves on the front line of the technology to address the evolving landscape.”
A single pane of glass
Cobwebs has positioned itself as a single pane of glass platform. This means that it is a tool that covers a range of different types of threat in one solution. Siloed solutions, in which there is a unique solution for the dark web, threat intelligence, and due diligence, may miss a crucial connection, according to Bachar.
“Bringing all the different models into a single platform that will automatically detect, analyse and alert provides a huge advantage. Especially as human beings, we often fail to see the big picture and connect the pieces of the puzzle while overwhelmed with vast amount of information to digest. A single pane of glass solution provides a clear image of the threat landscape.”