The MIDASearch Trawler

MIDASearch’s monthly trawl through the Internet to find trends and news relevant to online investigators.

November 2019


Introducing BERT – Google’s latest enhancement to improve search results.

The name ‘Bert’ makes me think of Bert from Sesame Street ……..

…… however to the web giant Google BERT is an acromion for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers and is their biggest update to impact search results in almost five years. According to Google BERT is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) – or to put it another way – it allows Google to understand language in a similar way that humans do.

The example below shows the difference in the results for the query ‘Can you get medicine for someone pharmacy’.

BERT is now live for English language searches and Google say it will impact 1 in 10 queries in terms of changing the results that rank for those queries. Other languages are to be rolled out in the near future.

Fraudsters used a popular video game to launder money.


Counter-Strike: Global Offensive a multiplayer first person shooter video game developed by Hidden Path Entertainment and Valve Corporation, have disabled players ability to trade container keys between accounts due to Money Laundering concerns.

Players earned cases within the game that contain weapons and cosmetic upgrades. The player would then need to purchase ‘keys’ to open the case. Through the developers Stream Powered Marketplace players could trade cases and keys from each other.

On October 28th the developers released the following statement along with a patch to the game to resolve the issue:

“In the past, most key trades we observed were between legitimate customers. However, worldwide fraud networks have recently shifted to using CS:GO keys to liquidate their gains. At this point, nearly all key purchases that end up being traded or sold on the marketplace are believed to be fraud-sourced. As a result we have decided that newly purchased keys will not be tradeable or marketable.”

Data Protection (and lack of) around the world

Freedom on the net has published a handy document on how data is stored in different countries. It is worth remembering that when accessing a website the location of the website server is not necessarily in the same country as the website owner and as such could be subject to very different data laws.

Brush up on your OSINT skills has a new OSINT skills page. The page features articles and training tips, from professional third party OSINT sources, to assist in all types of desktop investigations.

The page also features a training guide RSS feed from the independent international collective Belli¿ngcat .

You can access the page by either clicking on the ‘OSINT-SKILLS’ tab in the menu at the top of this page or by clicking here.

October 2019


Facebook Expands Into Mind Reading

Facebook have confirmed that they are close to acquiring New-York-based company CTRL Labs the makers of ‘Ctrl-kit’ an armband which can interpret signals from user’s brains to control a virtual keyboard or mouse.

Facebook’s vice president of augmented and virtual reality, Andrew Bosworth said “We know there are more natural, intuitive ways to interact with devices and technology. It’s why we’ve agreed to acquire CTRL Labs. They will be joining our Facebook Reality Labs team where we hope to build this kind of technology, at scale, and get it into consumer products faster.”

Ctrl-labs cofounder and CEO Thomas Reardon, who will join Facebook’s Reality Labs research group, said “With Ctrl-kit, you become the controller. Extracting the meanings of your movements. Taking biological neurons, sending that directly into a computational neurons. This way humans can dominate those computational neurons with their own neurons, to leverage things like machine learning,”

Fake news is the latest offering from criminals through the Dark Web

Fake news is generally perceived as being generated by shadowy government agencies. However, it has now come to light that criminals are offering their services to anyone interested in having fake news disseminated for their own gains. 

For less than a few hundred pounds / dollars the general public and private sector organisations can ‘hire’ cyber criminals, through the Dark Web, to generate positive or negative disinformation in order to deliberately deceive.

Speaking to ZDNet, Roman Sannikov, head of analyst services at Recorded Future, said “Now, as this type of activity has become much more well known in the West, we believe that some of these criminal-threat actors decided to capitalise on their newfound fame and try to cash in on unscrupulous businesses and entities outside of the Eastern European landscape.”

A Glimpse into the Future of AI Imaging Tools.

MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab have developed a new interactive tool, GANPaint Studio, to demonstrate how creative tools in the future could work. The tool takes an unaltered image of a specific category, e.g. churches or kitchen, and allows modifications with brushes to add details such as trees, brick-texture or windows.

Click here to access the GANPaint Studio.

Citizen Investigation Guide

The Global Investigate Journalism Network (GIJN) have a published a free investigation techniques guide aimed at helping non-journalists learn how to conduct an investigation.

Below are links to each Chapter from the guide:


Planning and Carrying Out an Investigation

Ethics and Safety

Searching the Internet

Researching Individuals

Finding Out Who Owns Corporations

Looking into Government Records

Investigating Politicians

Digging Up Property Records

September 2019


Free UK Online Fraud Investigation Course

The City of London Police have joined up with Future Learn and Coventry University to develop and deliver an online free course on how to conduct Fraud Investigations.

The course is available for four weeks to all students who enrol and covers the following topics:

  • Fraud types and enablers.
  • The Fraud Investigation Model.
  • Conducting effective fraud investigations.

For more information and to enrol visit: Future Learn Website Fraud Investigation: Making a Difference

Return of the NCSC Phishing Guidance

In August the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) released an updated version of their Phishing Guidance Document that was first published in February 2018.

This new version of the guide includes all the phishing alerts that were previously only available through NCSC blogposts.

The new guidance focus is centred on businesses developing a layered approach to combat Cyber Phishing.

Any UK Phishing Attacks you discover should be reported immediately to Action Fraud.

New Facebook Search Tool

**** This tool has is currently off-line ****

On the 2nd September Tech Crunch reported that Facebook are considering giving users an option to hide the ‘Like’ counter on their News Feed’s. This could lead to more misery for Online Investigators as the likes counter is often a good way of finding a users friends when their friends list is blocked to the public.

However, some long awaited good news has arrived. Since Facebook closed their graph search options gathering intelligence / information from Facebook profiles have been much more difficult……..but there is now a new ‘tool’ which helps unlock information that is in the public domain:

FBInsight is a very useful new tool that can help locate public related information from a user’s URL or Username or FB User ID number (enter the chosen format and then make sure you scroll down the screen to access the menu of options).

Results include:

  • Other users they most interact with.
  • The users real-time likes.
  • The users liked posts.
  • The users liked videos.
  • Posts the user has commented on.
  • Posts the user has been tagged in.
  • Places the user has ‘checked in-to’.
  • Events the user has ‘joined’.

UK Property Fraud

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

ABC Finance Limited, a specialist finance broker, has published their recent research into fraud claims reported to the UK Land Registry. Their research found the UK Land Registry has received 30 times as many fraud claims as it has prevented since 2009.

Property identified in the report as most at risk are as per info-gram below:


August 2019


The UK Steps Up ‘War’ on Fake News

The British Army has announced that it is setting up a new unit within their ‘6 Division to combat Cyber Threats including Fake News.

The unit, confirmed by Lieutenant General Ivan Jones the UK’s most senior soldier, is expected to go beyond the normal remits of military operations to focus on information warfare including social media accounts that generate fake news and propaganda across all social media platforms.

The unit will also be utilising traditional army techniques including information jamming and similar proactive offensives as well as supporting allied intelligence agencies.

New Anti-Application Fraud Partnership Announced

With the continued increase of criminals using stolen or fake documentation to commit application fraud by opening fictitious accounts (source: UK Finance), two online fraud prevention initiatives have formed a partnership to combine their resources to offer businesses a new defence solution.

Emailage, an email risk assessment technology that uses data science techniques and combined machine-learning technology to generate digital identities from a user’s email address have combined forces with Featurespace, providers of risk detection and fraud prevention applications.

Businesses can subscribe to access Featurespace’s ARIC platform combined with Emailage’s global consortium of data and risk assessment scores to receive real-time reports of potential application fraud.

Fake Resume Generator

With a simple search of the internet it is easy to find ‘Fake name generators’ and photos of ‘people’ that have been generated using Articficial Inteligence.

Example of the search results:

The next logical step in the evolotion of creating a fake profile is to combine the name generator data and AI images.

The resume site builder Enhancv have combined their resources to build a random ‘Fake Resume Generator’.

The Generator uses random information and AI created images within ten seconds. The purpose of the generator is to showcase the types of resume’s you can build on their sites. It also, however, shows how quickly technology is evolving to create believable profiles of people who don’t exist.

Example header of a fake ‘persons’ resume:

July 2019


Social Media Searches

Friday 7th June Facebook made some unannounced background changes to the way Facebook could be searched. For years the search parameters were built around their own ‘Facebook Graph Search’ which let users search using either string commands in the relevant URL or any number of third party website tools – one of the most popular was ‘Stalk Scan’.

………but this extremely useful way to search Facebook has now been ‘suspended’ with no news as to if it will be re-instated or if a new way to search is on the way……. or if we are just stuck with the new primitive search bar………

Facebook is a valuable tool for online investigations and these changes have made a huge impact to investigators information / intelligence sources. However a few tools have surfaced to try and make searching a bit easier including ‘Sowdust’:

However these recent Facebook issues are a good opportunity for investigators to put more emphasis on other social networks that still have good search interfaces. The list below has links to third party tools that will enable ‘deep searching’ of some of the other big social network sites:


Fact Checking

Over the past few years electronic online information has become easier to access and distribute than other methods such as print. Information at your finger-tips is a great way to stay informed quickly but has also led to a sharp increase in ‘fake news’.

The Poyneter Institute host an annual Global Fact Checking Network where deligates discuss ideas and tactics to tackle issues such as fake news. This years network was held in Cape Town and featured 57 speakers. The Poynter Institute have issued the advice that was discussed at the forum which will help Investigators and business across the globe to improve their fact checking skills and re-sources. The main points can be found here: 9 fact-checking lessons from Global Fact 6.


MeWe a rival to Facebook


The Los Angeles Business Journal are reporting that the Social Network site ‘MeWe’ parent company have received another significant financial investment.

MeWe is a California based social network site founded in 2012 as a rival to Facebook. MeWe have so far raised around $15 million in total since its creation. MeWe is advertised as a private, no adverts, no spyware social media site. MeWe expect to have over 30 million active users by the end of 2019 with over half of this number coming from users outside of the U.S.

Using Machine Learning to Spot Photo Shopped Images


In the June issue of The MidaSearch Trawler there was a piece regarding fake face generators. Image manipulation as well as ‘Deep Fake Videos’ have the potential of fabricating information.

Adobe have over the years been innovators in photo-shopping software, but have now published a paper on how they are using machine learning to spot photo-shopped images. A solution is yet to be made available to the public from Adobe, however the video below gives a good overview of their work in tackling this issue. Whether it will be Adobe or another company who eventually release a solution to businesses and investigators to tackle the issue it is worth keeping an eye on any future developments.

June 2019


AI technology face generators

The ‘people’ below all have one thing in common – they do not exist. They were all created using AI technology and are available from free open source websites.

How can I check that a face is real?

Currently the faces on the free random generator sites all have a small defect that can be spotted by studying the image. Some are easy to spot whilst others are harder to spot as the defect is not always in the same place.

Spotting the defect….

However with free online photo-shop tools it is easy to remove the defect and even add a whole new back ground, but even with no changes it still has Google fooled…

Have a go at this quiz and see how many fake faces you can spot……

Invoice Fraud Scams


The Nat West Business Hub has an interesting article explaining how invoice scammer gangs are posing as legitimate payees of supply firms and tricking the targeted companies in to transferring money to them. According to figures published by UK Finance in their report Fraud the Facts these scams cost firms over £90million in 2018.

You can read the Nat West article here


Manage your online identity


Image by Denis Bogdan from Pixabay

It is important to keep on top of your social media accounts and to regularly check that your email address(es) have not been compromised. Three easy steps to help are:

  • Check to see if your email address has been compromised through known security breaches. A simple easy way to check is by using a free reputable webite such as ‘Have I been pwned?’ The site will check any inputted email address and give instant results along with relevant tips on how you can reduce the risk of being a victim of hacks and scams.
  • Delete old social media and other accounts that you no longer use. – However it is not always as easy as it possibly should be to have companies delete your personal details from their websites. ‘Just delete me!’ has useful information and direct links to a large number of websites account deactivation pages.
  • Update your privacy settings – check privacy settings on social media and other websites you use still meet your personal requirements. If you are unsure how to update privacy settings think about giving a site such as Plus Privacy a try. It is a ‘one stop’ website tool that enables you to easily change privacy settings of several social media sites at once.


People Hacking

Stephanie “Snow” Carruthers is a People Hacker for X-Force Red, an autonomous team of veteran hackers within IBM in this article she reveals some of her tricks to gaining vital business information from company employees.

May 2019 

FBI take down Deep Dot Web

the go to site for the latest news on the Dark Web, Deep Dot Web, has been seized by the FBI. Due to the site being available via the surface web (as well as the dark web) it was an easy go to for investigators to understand trends and markets within the hidden web.

The Times Israel are reporting that several people have been arrested internationally on suspicion of supporting the purchase of drugs and weapons.

Many on investigators were asking (via Twitter) for links to any sites similar to Deep Dot Web. Dark Net News appeared on several replies as being a good alternative, however at time of writing (May 10th) the site is displaying a 404 page not found error.

Public are warned of commonly used methods by travel fraudsters

Action Fraud (The National Fraud and Cyber Crime site) have joined with ABTA (The Travel Association) and Get safe online to raise awareness of Travel / Holiday fraud.

Action Fraud has reported that they have had over 5,000 people report fraud to them in 2018. Over half of holiday frauds reported to Action Fraud were related to the sale of airline tickets. Around a quarter of the reported fraud was related to accommodation.

In all Action Fraud calculate that fraudsters stole more than £7 million through scams targeting the public. This is up from 2017 when it calculated that fraudsters had stolen in the region of £6.7 million through travel fraud scams.

For more information click on the following link to the Action Fraud press release dated 09th May 2019:

Banking Fraud Prevention System Delayed Until March 2020

The six biggest UK banks, who are involved in around 90% of UK based bank transfers, now have until 31st March 2020 to implement The Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) Confirmation of PAYEE (CoP) which is designed to protect customers from Authorised Push Payment Scams and payments being made to the wrong account accidently.

For more information click on the following link to the PSR press release dated 09th May 2019: