In this article, I’m going to show you the steps I used to geolocate an image challenge using publicly available tools and open-source information. At the end, I will provide the address and nearby locations of the image while walking through the steps I took.
What is Geolocation OSINT?
Geolocation OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) refers to the practice of gathering information about a target or a specific location using publicly available open-source data and geolocation techniques. OSINT is the process of collecting and analyzing information from publicly accessible sources, such as social media, websites, news articles, and other online platforms, to generate intelligence or insights.
This OSINT Geolocation challenge comes from Gary Ruddell on Twitter @Gary__Ruddell and the goal is to locate the source of the photograph and mark it with a pin. Challenge accepted!
Defining the Search Area
The first part of Geolocating an image is to narrow the search area. Start by finding identifying landmarks or signs that could give an indication of the location. In this image, there are two areas that demand attention because they contain business information. This is where we begin our search.
Look for Text, Logos, Business IDs
The first sign is the logo on the building. Enlarge the area so we can try and read it. Although the text is not completely clear, it’s a start.
The text at the top arrow appears to be YVIE.COM. Entering YVIE.com into our search engine indicates that VYIE is a company located in Amsterdam that rents apartments. To add credibility to this information, the buildings appear to be an apartment complex.
The bottom arrow shows what looks like the word CBOX and what appears to be “CONSTRUCTION” in smaller lettering at the bottom. A Google search reveals that CBOX Construction supplies containers for construction sites, and they are in several cities, but CBOX also has a facility located in Amsterdam.
Bellingcat OpenStreetMap Search
We have two good leads in Amsterdam and this is where we are going to start our investigation. The Bellingcat OpenStreetMap search tool provides an excellent tool for Geolocating images based on featured landmarks from the target image. This is the tool we are going to use to see if our starting point is correct.
If you are not familiar with Bellingcat, check them out. They have done a lot with OSINT with the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17/MAS17) investigation and open source investigations.
Generating Some Input
Analyzing our initial image, we can see easily recognizable landmarks that will help us geolocate the exact location. They include:
a large 10+ story building
From the Feature presets menu, select these options to populate the Selected features box on the left.
Narrow the Search Area
Now we need to narrow our search area by typing the name of the city in the search box and clicking the Search button.
And then we wait. Depending on your search area and presets, this could take a long time. Considering the search engine is doing a lot trying to map your presets with a large area, I thought the results were pretty quick.
Upon glancing through the search results, one stood out from the rest on the default OSM default. Number 11 looked promising. Clicking on this result displays a detailed area.
Several landmarks jump out from the map that appear to match our source image.
At the top of the results page, switch over to the Satelite view and see what it looks like from above.
Zooming into the red dot on the bridge confirms the initial search. Notable is the courtyard in the building on the bottom left. the tall circular building (where the picture was taken), the bridge, and the tall 10+ story building at the center. This is a strong contender for an exact match.
We can further confirm the location matches the slight bend to the left of the river and the corresponding, shown in the original image and the OSM image from the Bellingcat OpenMap search.
This is our geolocation of the original photograph.
Confirmation of Location Data
The location of the red arrow is the exact spot the photographer was standing when he captured the image. Using Google Maps, as a final reference map, the photo from the rooftop of the Sir Adam Hotel in Overhoeksplein 7, 1031 KS Amsterdam, Netherlands.
GPS Coordinates: 52.38405739914624, 4.902283051785693