Victoria’s Echosec Spills Putin’s Secrets

February 27, 2015 by Nevin Thompson

Victoria tech startup Echosec is getting recognition from some of the world’s top security analysts for spilling Vladmir Putin’s secrets.

By examining a trail of geo-tagged breadcrumbs left online by one smartphone-loving conscript, the Echosec team collected compelling evidence that Russian troops are in Ukraine, in turn creating a buzz in the blogosphere.

The team followed a Russian soldier’s posts on social media, learning his date of birth, hometown, and the exact location where he posted from on a variety of social media platforms.

Echosec, led by Tectoria mapping technology guru Karl Swannie, has created a location-based search tool that allows its users to search physical regions for messages, images, videos and more.

While Echosec has a powerful app aimed at pros, anyone can use their public app here to examine Tweets, Instagram posts and more from specific geographic locations.

Echosec’s search tool not only aggregates dozens of social media feeds and their geolocation data, but also quickly and  easily “fences in” the search area.

The pro version of Echosec’s search engine mines close to 500 data feeds, including social media networks and open data from governments and the private sector.

If whoever is posting hasn’t locked down their privacy settings – and this could include your own Facebook and Instagram feeds, for example – the geo-tagged data is available for anyone to gather and analyze on the internet.

Recognition for Echosec

Echosec’s hard work here in Victoria is gaining global recognition.

Echosec ‘s success at finding evidence of Russian fighting in Ukraine was recently given a shout-out by influential global security blog Bellingcat.

Echosec’s analysis is important because there are strong suspicions that Russian troops are being dispatched by Vladmir Putin deep inside Ukrainian borders to tip the scales in that country’s civil war, a violation of international law.

Not bad for one of the three hundred or so tech companies that are hidden downtown – Echosec, along with a number of other tech companies, is currently located on the second floor of a building Owen Matthews owns at Fort and Vancouver.

The neighbourhood of Harris Green is become a tech cluster; Matthews also launched a “mini-tech park” nearby in a former bottle depot on Vancouver Street, kittycorner to where Echosec calls home.

Echosec’s technology: evidence that Russian troops are in Ukraine

It took the Echosec team just a few hours to demonstrate that Russian soldiers are most likely deployed in Ukraine. The team followed on a Russian soldier on social media, learning his his date of birth, hometown, and the exact location where he posted from on a variety of social media platforms.

The location of the soldier’s social media activity according to geo-tagging?

The Donetsk region, well over the border from Russia and the scene of most of the fighting in the civil war.

How Echosec found evidence of Russians fighting in Ukraine

Brown Moses, aka “Bellingcat”

Bellingcat’s shout-out to Victoria-based Echosec is an important bit of recognition from one of the world’s most innovative security analysts.

Bellingcat (@bellingcat) is the name of the influential “citizen journalism” project started by independent UK security researcher Eliot Higgins.

Using the pseudonym Brown Moses, Higgins gained global recognition after starting out several years ago spending his day monitoring nearly 500 YouTube channels to get insights about the brutal Syrian civil war.

Higgins was doing his online monitoring and research at a time when few if any Western media were able to report from inside the Syria. As a result Higgins’ insights often helped influence public opinion and government policy around the world.

Fast-forward to 2015, and Higgins and his crowdsourced Bellingcat project now regularly scoop major news media.

The ability to pinpoint the origin of social media posts

What sets Echosec apart from other search technology is its ability to “geo-fence.” Using Echosec’s technology, users can  draw a virtual line around a building or an area, and to tap into all the publicly available data from that location. That means not only social media feeds but open data that could include everything from live webcam feeds to government information.

In this case, Echosec tracked the social media activity of one soldier to demonstrate that Russia is indeed deploying its military in Ukraine.

B-Side Bonus: the Guardian Explains How Bellingcat Analyzes Social Media

The Guardian newspaper provides a fascinating analysis of how the Bellingcat team compared historical satellite imagery on Google Earth and social media videos to support their theory that a series of key artillery strikes on Ukrainian forces in summer 2014 came from inside Russia.

In this video below Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins explains how he used open-source information to determine cross-border artillery attacks that appear to be being fired from Russian territory into Ukraine. His team used satellite imagery on Google Earth and crater analysis techniques.

(Video opens in a new window)

brown moses


2 Comments

  1. […] recently, Echosec was featured in a lengthy post on a popular, local tech resource “The B Side” .  The article recognized how Echosec was used to examine a trail of geo-tagged […]

  2. […] little closer to home, Victoria’s one-stop-shop for local stories, B-Side published a article outlining Echosec’s international recognition. Neville Thompson digs a […]

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