close up photography of magnifying glass

Dressed NOT for Success

Guest blog by PaulSin95038741

Below follows an OSINT approach on how to search/identify clothes that you see online. Spoiler alert. This presentation will be different in that we will not find a clear-cut solution as opposed to many OSINT-articles presented by the OSINT Curious team. Never the less, in my opinion, a very important one.

Background

I’d say that most of us OSINT-people are very problem oriented and thus like to come up with step-by-step guides on how to resolve a case. The general suggestion/advice for anyone who is new in the field, as yours truly, is that you start out small and then as you gain more experience you take on more challenging cases. One of the most challenging ones that I’ve come a crossed is Europol’s “Trace an Object”. Below you will find plenty of resources that will help you to identify clothes and other garments not just specific to Europol’s “Trace an Object” initiative. The idea is that it will also help you to resolve other similar cases by brand, origin, color, motives etc.

About Me

I have a background in IT (developer, technical support, web and computer forensics). All more or less self-taught. Though no background within LE (Law Enforcement), I still have an investigative mindset.

“On with the show”

FYI: I have done all my work on a PC and Android device.
So, with any investigation we will need to look at the big picture whenever we see an item, crime scene, photo of a person or just plain text. What do we have in front of us? Also, we need to start asking ourselves questions using GAP-analysis. Here is a good starting point by Nixintel.

Composition photo of a boy tuxedo and a small white dress with pink flowers.

What do you see in front of you?

Taken the picture above, I think we can all agree that we see a tuxedo for a young boy and a girl’s dress. But is that all that we, see? One of my first exercises when I taught programming was to simulate a withdrawal from an ATM machine. These are usually the steps that we take

  • Insert your debit/credit-card
  • Type in the pin
  • Enter withdrawal amount
  • Receive your withdrawal

But is that really all? Once you start asking questions they will soon increase by exponential rate. So back to the picture and let’s define what we see. The goal is to use those answers as search criteria. More commonly known as Google Dorks – though we can use most of them in other search engines such as DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yandex, Yahoo and more with a slight variation. These, are some of the answers we’d come up with, ladies first: pink flowers, red spots, white dress, girl, baby-girl, sleeveless. Then in a Google image search, it would look something like this:

pink flowers red spots white dress girl baby-girl sleeveless.

Then we have the boy’s tuxedo: boy black jacket “black bow tie” AND white shirt. If the dress, tuxedo or whatever you have includes a motive or pure text, do include that in the search criteria as well. Here it is very important that you put the text inside the quotation marks, as such: “text goes here”. Also, describe the motive. If there’s a Statue of Liberty pictured on the t-shirt, then include that in the search. Color(s) are equally important. Anything that you feel will narrow down your target, you just add. Then if the result set becomes too much, not relevant, then use the NOT operator with the hyphen or commonly known as the -(minus) sign. This will only return American spelling:

red color -colour.

Notice: That I have “” (quotation marks) in the search criteria. Which signals that I want to search with that exact phrase. Here is a good read of the power of using Boolean search. Again, I turn to Nixintel who has a good primer (my words) on Boolean search here: https://nixintel.info/osint/one-search-to-rule-them-all-boolean-searches-for-images/

Another factor to take into consideration is the country of origin. If you think that it’s more likely that the item is from Eastern Europe, Russia or/and Asia, you ought to use the Russian search engine: Yandex. Yandex is more specialized when it comes to the mentioned regions. Google/Bing is better for Europe, America and South America. With that said, add those regions in the search criteria or use Google or Yandex. However, as always, do not solely rely on one search engine, instead use more than one. The search results can be very different both to your disadvantage and advantage. While, on the topic of image search, do not forget about “Visual Search” in Bing and/or Yandex. The idea is that you crop an image and then search within that area. Taking the picture above, we could crop either the bow-tie or the red rose.

Tools and more resources

Now on to some handy tools to further assist you in your investigation. We will mainly look at Google Lens, Pinterest and social media. I find Google Lens (Google Play Store) as an excellent tool especially when you are out window shopping or you see an item in a store and want to know more and perhaps who else is selling that product? So, if you see a clothing item that is somewhat similar, Google Lens might be your friend. Pinterest, is somewhat of a gold mine when it comes to clothes. Especially women’s clothing. Not only can you search, and upload your own pictures, but also ask about a specific item. Then of course we have our good old friend Facebook and other social media forums that you can use.

Advanced tools and more resources

We always talk about the importance of corroborating your findings, like with anything you find, doing a simple Google-search. So, here are a few more tools that you’ve probably not heard about before.

WIPO: https://www3.wipo.int/branddb/en/
Global Brand Database is a tool you can use to look for brands, image, text and you can even upload your own images to find similar matches. The learning curve is a bit steep and the information returned is a bit overwhelming. My advice is that you read the tooltips and the documentation first (as always). Any information about brands, companies, addresses etc., you can then corroborate using Open Corporates (see below).

Reddit: https://reddit.com/r/TraceAnObject/
Trace An Object is a good resource when you want to compare your thoughts/findings with others. Ask questions. Am I on the right track? Add what you know. Perhaps someone has already found a solution? In that case, move on.

GIMP: https://gimp.org
A feature rich photo editing program to use to sharpen any blurry pictures that you either find online or uploaded. There are many tutorials on YouTube that will get you up to speed. Just make sure that you are looking at the correct GIMP version.

OpenCorporates: https://opencorporates.com
I’d say is the go-to tool when you want to verify a company from WIPO (see above) or any other place. Is that company still in business? Historical records? People associated with that company and much more.

Bellingcat: https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2020/04/22/creating-impact-a-year-on-stop-child-abuse-trace-an-object/
Mainly a site that journalists use but at the same time, a primer when it comes to show how an opensource investigation is done. I’ve linked to a detail run down on how to identify objects. It’s a lengthy article that shows how important it is to “leave no stone unturned”.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are looking for an item that might have some connection to a child abuse case, something that’s in a photo, a missing person or want to find out more on just about anything – you will have to find a reasonable starting point. Same approach as when you build a house. You don’t start with the second floor but build the foundation first.

I hope that this presentation has giving you a starting point i.e., really dressed you up for success in finding what you are looking for. Also, remember that even if you don’t find a solution today, tomorrow or next week, you have learned a lot on the way compared to when you started out. Staying focused, motivated and OSINT Curious will take you a long way.

/Pathfinder

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