Before publicly sharing his findings over the weekend, he discussed them in a private chat group on Twitter, made up of people interested in intelligence and security issues. “I know about two-thirds of what I know about the world from the group chats,” he said.
Danielle Cave, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that Twitter is playing an increasingly important role in open-source intelligence, the collection of sensitive information from publicly available sources. Researchers from think tanks, nongovernmental organizations and the corporate sector who are at the cutting edge of cybersecurity work gravitate to the platform to exchange information, she said.
“Twitter’s being used to piece it together like a jigsaw,“ Ms. Cave said. “Usually I see them on top of a cyberrelated issue hours, if not days, before it ends up on the media.”
John Blaxland, a professor of international security and intelligence studies at Australian National University, taught Mr. Ruser last year.
“A lot of geo-location, a lot of reflection can be derived from what’s out there in open-source,” Professor Blaxland said. “Nathan’s clearly taken it to heart and gone out on his own.” (Mr. Ruser did very well in his class, the professor added.)
Mr. Ruser, who is from Sydney, hopes to spend a semester abroad in Myanmar before graduating next year. He said he has written 7,000 words of an article about a pro-government militia in northern Myanmar, which he plans to send to Bellingcat, an open-source citizen journalism site, when it’s finished.
He said he hoped the Australian intelligence community saw his Strava revelation as a positive contribution, helping the Australian government and others address their vulnerabilities. “I would definitely not like to be a Manning, or a Snowden, or an Assange,” he said.
Like many 20-year-olds, he is not sure what he wants to do after graduation. But Ms. Cave and others agreed that his discovery would not hurt his career prospects.
“He’s obviously got some seriously great skills,” Ms. Cave said. “It would be crazy for groups in this space not to nab somebody like that.” In fact, she said, she was thinking of asking him if he’d be interested in an internship.
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