Learn how to blend in with the locals and gain access to foreign websites with managed attribution and obfuscation techniques for open-source intelligence investigations.

Everyone has had that moment traveling — you’re decked out in your flip flops, floppy hat and Hawaiian shirt, dressed and ready for the beach. Maybe it’s in the coffee shop line or just walking down the boardwalk, you see a smirk and an eye roll from a local. Suddenly you realize your relaxation-ready wear has you sticking out like a sore thumb, and everyone in a four-block radius knows the tourists are in town. That quick recognition and inability to hide your out-of-placeness can apply to more than just vacation getaways. 

With a ready connection, I can explore all over the world from the comfort of a home office. I can zoom in on the satellite imagery of far-away places as if it’s out my front door, swipe through the Instagram photos of foreign influencers and browse the local chatroom drama of small towns in countries I’ve never set foot in. But like taking a cheap flight with no legroom, just because I can get there, doesn’t mean natives won’t notice me poking around when I land.

When you log onto a Russian-affiliated website at 3 a.m. their time from an American browser on an American device with English-speaking settings, even a flimsy VPN (wherever it says you’re coming from) won’t conceal your purpose. You might as well be walking around in that vibrant floral shirt with a point-and-shoot camera strap wrapped around your neck and a glob of mineral sunscreen on your nose.

The key to breakthroughs when conducting international research is the ability to blend in with the locals. Collecting open-source information that hasn’t been manipulated or concealed without tipping off webmasters requires some finesse. But there are anonymous in-region ways to access sites you would never find from a stateside Google search.

More than a VPN: In-region points of presence

So how can you gain access to foreign websites without loudly announcing yourself? Silo points of presence are a network of internet egress nodes that allow you to change the location you appear from. When using a point of presence, the IP address matches the local address, helping you to blend much more seamlessly than a transparent VPN. 

With a worldwide monitored and maintained network of local egress nodes and the ability to manipulate browser and language settings, you gain the ability to see behind the curtain to collect information that wouldn’t otherwise be revealed to outsiders. Your digital fingerprint defines your algorithm. It affects your search results, your feed and how websites and search engines see you. When you search with the fingerprint of “an American analyst with a large-breed dog and an occasional late-night Amazon habit,” you’re not pulling up the same results as a citizen of another country.

The ability to choose the characteristics of your IP, from broadband to mobile device, provides essential cover to your research and allows your collection process to blend with the crowd. A variety of hosting providers worldwide makes up an architecture to allow you to be identified as corporate internet, residential internet connection, mobile telephone providers or other types of connections, per your research requirements. Every piece of the user agent string can be manipulated and tweaked to fit the profile of your collection.

The global egress network includes over two dozen user-selectable points of presence situated around the world. Suddenly you can be sitting in a foreign coffee shop virtually overhearing in-language information that was previously out-of-bounds. Regional ISPs and virtual private servers (VPS) lets you obfuscate your identity and your purpose so you can transform from an obnoxious tourist to a fly on the wall.

Language, culture and geography can all influence the accuracy of our investigations, which is why it's helpful to become knowledgeable about a region before starting data collection activities. Using obscuring software for protection while carrying out investigations is a crucial step of diminishing risk is and becoming more familiar with the area you're researching. By blending in, investigators can reduce their hazard levels while still obtaining beneficial insights from their open-source intelligence operations. Language settings in the browser can reveal your true identity, but with automatic transcription and translation, there’s no need to give yourself away.

Like with any research in Silo, each sterile session opens a brand new blank slate, free of cookies and preferences, so your activity from one collection project doesn’t muddle your results for the next. You can research in Europe and Asia on the same day without dragging any cookies back and forth across the digital journey.

Amplifying your research with obfuscation

Maintaining anonymity and good security hygiene while researching abroad is essential to both the research and the researcher. It’s important to understand how your digital fingerprint might be undermining your narrative and potentially giving away key identifiers to targets and bad actors alike. By investing in a managed attribution platform that can isolate collection methods, obfuscate your identity and teleport your user agent string across the world, you can not only protect the integrity of your analysis but the things that matter most in the world.

To learn more about managed attribution for open-source intelligence investigations, book a demo.

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