Doing OSINT before it was cool – interview with Sector035

This week’s debrief is with Sector035, a versatile OSINT expert from the Netherlands. He specialises in many aspects of open source research, from geolocation and chronolocation to web infrastructure and digital OSINT.

He also curates the Week in OSINT newsletter where every week he distils interesting content from the people in the industry.

Having worked on some very gruesome cases myself, I can say that this might not be for everyone. But finding people, or researching news topics, is a great way to make a living, despite the tough deadlines it brings.
sector035 OSINT
Sector
@Sector035
Hey Sector, welcome. Can you introduce yourself?
 
Thank you for having me. As most people know, I go by the moniker Sector035, or Sector for short. I’ve been around for well over four decades already, and just as a lot of people in the OSINT community, I’ve been curious to learn or find out new things since I was still a kid.
 
How long you’ve been involved in the OSINT community?
 
I’ve been doing something like OSINT for personal gain my whole life to be honest. But only since about 2017 I’ve been active within the community itself. It actually started with an article by Christiaan Triebert, when he was still working for Bellingcat.
 
I remember reading it at work, and decided I would try one of those geolocation quizzes if it would be around lunch time, and I got lucky. For those interested, here is the quiz I’m talking about.
 
From there, I became a regular Quiztime player, eventually joined the group myself, started my weekly OSINT newsletter in May 2018, joined The OSINT Curious Project, and I’ve had loads of other memorable moments.

What is your motivation for making the OSINT community contributions the way you do?

Back in 2018 I noticed that a lot of information was shared on Twitter, where I spent, and still spend, a lot of my time. And even though it’s easy to search Twitter for interesting information, I noticed that a lot of nice tips and tricks were lost for a lot of people.

After I started following a lot of interesting people, I started collecting these tips, and started a Medium blog, sharing these snippets of information. From there it grew into a weekly newsletter, mostly because of all the positive feedback I received.

Do you remember what your first OSINT setup was (hardware + software)?
 
I actually had a small personal laptop, with an I3 processor, that was not capable of running a VM. So I’ve used some USB bootable sticks with Ubuntu, I ran BlueStacks and Nox on my Windows system, had several browsers installed, with different scripts, and Google Earth.
 
I didn’t have any fancy software to track my every move, I only had my trusty screenshot and recording app ShareX. No fancy scripts, even searching for usernames or personal infromation was done by hand, sometimes even diving into source code to find more (hidden) information.
 
Being an IT guy for a few decades, you always look a bit further, than just what a browser is rendering on the screen after all.
 
What is your current OSINT setup?
 
At home I have an old but still nice running hexacore AMD, with currently 16GB of memory and plenty of storage. I also have a HP MicroServer that is used as a playground for some projects, or testing out larger apps that might feature in my newsletter.
 
Professionally I use a MacBook Pro, with 16GB of memory and enough space for my (currently) 25 VM’s, and a handful of Genymotion ones, that use VirtualBox. And that contains things ranging from reverse engineering, development environments, test-VMs and projects.
 
What is your favourite OSINT subject (geolocation, people search, web infrastructure, etc.)?
 
There are three things I really like.
 
First of all, there’s the digital OSINT, for instance domain names, IP addresses, digital certificates and such. That is part of my daily job, so that’s what I’m doing most of the time.
 
Then there’s of course the geolocation, that has been a big part of my life the past three years. And a third one, is chronolocation. It’s not something I can use at work, but I love this subject, and there is so much to tell about, and so much to learn still. So that’s absolutely that has my attention.
Can you name one cool OSINT trick or method your recently learned?
 
I learn cool things every week! I had to keep up to date with new sources, tools, scripts, techniques and tips for my newsletter. One thing that I was surprised about that I didn’t see yet, was a link to a site that has 360° images and videos.  
 
I was tipped by Ritu Gill (@OSINTtechniques), which led me to spend an hour or so browsing different beautiful cities in the world. And even though I heard of Gigapixel photos, I didn’t know there was even a Gigapixel 360° site too!
 
Data breaches, stolen data leaks and dumps – is that OSINT to you or not?
 
Technically, it’s available for everyone, so you could say it’s ‘open’, in the open source intelligence. The only issue I have with it, is that it’s not only illegally obtained information, but there’s no way to verify whether the information these dumpsites provide is correct.
 
Yes, I do also have some accounts in these dumps, and some information is correct, but about a third has incorrect passwords. So probably went wrong with importing or formatting a large dataset. So if I already see that there’s incorrect information about some old accounts I used to have, what does that say about the information about accounts that really matter to me at this moment in time? And how will I ever verify the information provided?
 
What is your view on paid OSINT courses and certifications?
 
I’ve only bee so fortunate to view some bits of OSINT Combine‘s material, and I’ve had a little taste of SEC487 when Micah Hoffman gave a small workshop some years ago.
 
So I can’t really say a lot about it, but I do know that the two people I mentioned are very skilled, and keep on updating their study material with really good information, processes, workflows and techniques. But since my work mainly involves technical components, and having an extensive technical career, it’s difficult to find a course for me.

Recently the OSINT community was outraged after a story from Missouri, US emerged where a journalist pressed F12 to view HTML source code of a state department website and reported finding social security numbers exposed there. He was threatened with prosecution. What do you think about this?

I saw that story, and it’s actually ridiculous that the state department doesn’t have enough technical information on how things like this work. The source code of the web page is being sent to your browser, and rendered for our convenience.

But the fact is, the web server sent out all this information itself, without any trickery, hacking, script injections or anything else that might be deemed illegal. The information that was received was simply viewed, with a standard feature of a web browser, making the threat of prosecution a fruitless undertaking.

Is it possible to make a living out of OSINT alone, without combining it with other specialties?
 
Absolutely! There are loads of different jobs out there for people that love OSINT. From research desks at news agencies, humanitarian work, legal or insurance investigators, law enforcement, and a lot more.
 
It just depends on where your passion is, and what topics are suitable for you. Having worked on some very gruesome cases myself, I can say that this might not be for everyone. But finding people, or researching news topics, is a great way to make a living, despite the tough deadlines it brings.
 
Anything else you’d like to add?
 
No, I think I covered it all, didn’t I? Most people already know me from Twitter, The OSINTCurious Project, or from the Quiztime initiative.
 
And if you didn’t know me yet, then make sure that you keep an eye out on my Twitter account, or turn your RSS reader over to sector035.nl, because every Monday morning at 8AM CEST I publish a new, small, weekly overview of new tips, tools and techniques.
 
Well, nearly every week, since I need some time off once in a while after all.

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