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China’s accelerated use of Open Source Intelligence for Military purposes raises concerns, finds Insikt Group Analysis

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China’s accelerated use of Open Source Intelligence for Military purposes raises concerns, finds Insikt Group Analysis

In its recent analysis, cybersecurity firm Recorded Future’s research division, Insikt Group, has revealed that China is intensifying its utilization of open source information collection and analysis technologies for military intelligence purposes. The report underscores how private companies, state-owned enterprises, research organizations, and universities are actively supporting the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in leveraging open-source intelligence (OSINT) by providing research services, data, and platforms. The PLA, serving as the primary military force of the People’s Republic of China and the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party, aims to enhance its intelligence capabilities through OSINT utilization.

Insikt Group’s findings indicate that China’s military and defense industries employ various advanced technologies such as automated web crawlers, algorithms, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to extract intelligence from diverse sources. These sources include foreign governments, militaries, social media platforms, news media organizations, companies, research organizations, and individuals. The report emphasizes that the PLA’s use of OSINT provides it with a significant intelligence advantage due to the open information environment prevalent in the West, allowing the PLA to gather extensive quantities of open-source data. In contrast, Western militaries face challenges in collecting data from China’s closed information environment.

The analysis further highlights the PLA’s recognition of OSINT as a valuable source of military intelligence for decision-making. By leveraging OSINT, the PLA gains insights into foreign military capabilities, facilities, doctrine, decision-making processes, weapons, equipment, science and technology advancements, exercises, training, intelligence, and deployments. This strategic use of OSINT effectively aids the PLA in preparing for future conflicts. The report also suggests that the PLA seeks to learn from other countries’ OSINT programs while simultaneously preventing foreign countries from collecting military OSINT from Chinese sources. These efforts help the PLA maintain an advantage over Western nations in the realm of OSINT.

Insikt Group’s analysis identifies several private Chinese companies involved in OSINT provision to the military, although these companies represent only a fraction of China’s military OSINT ecosystem. Examples include DataExa (Xiamen Yuanting Information Science and Technology Co., Ltd.), which offers an OSINT platform for the PLA, and Knowfar (Beijing Nuofang Zhiyuan Information Science and Technology Co., Ltd.), an OSINT database provider. Lanhai Changqing (formerly Beijing Lanhai Changqing Think Tank Science and Technology Consulting Co., Ltd.) functions as a privately-owned PLA contractor offering OSINT research services. Techxcope (Beijing Yuanwang Think Tank Science and Technology Consulting Co., Ltd.) positions itself as a think tank and provides OSINT research services, maintaining a prominent media presence. Finally, Kantian (Beijing Kantian Science and Technology Co., Ltd.) is a privately-owned remote sensing company catering to the PLA.

In light of these findings, the Insikt Group urges governments, militaries, research organizations, companies, news media organizations, social media platforms, and individuals to be aware of China’s employment of new technologies to collect, process, and analyze vast amounts of publicly-available data for intelligence purposes. It advises them to consider implementing measures to mitigate these intelligence collection efforts. Additionally, commercial data providers should exercise caution as China’s military and defense industry may procure their data for intelligence purposes. Such providers should conduct due diligence when selling data to entities in China.

The insightful report by Insikt Group can be accessed here, and interested readers can find similar reports on the subject. The analysis draws from a dataset created by Insikt Group, encompassing PLA and Chinese defense industry procurement records. This dataset, comprising 50 projects, was collected between January 2019 and January 2023, utilizing various tools within the Recorded Future Intelligence Cloud.

Insikt Group, Recorded Future’s threat research division, consists of analysts and security researchers with extensive experience in government, law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies. Recorded Future, a privately held cybersecurity company founded in 2009 and headquartered in Somerville, Massachusetts, specializes in the collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination of threat intelligence.

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