Security and intelligence company IST Research has acquired Rescue Forensics to double down on its efforts to find human traffickers and victims of modern day slavery.
IST Research and Rescue Forensics did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition announced Thursday.
Rescue Forensics tech will be used to improve efforts by both the Department of Defense’s Memex deep web search engine and IST’s Pulse platform. Both can be used to trace human traffickers and other groups.
The Memex program has been used to help prosecutors secure convictions, said Scientific American in a February 2015 article.
IST has worked with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) since 2012, founder Ryan Paterson told VentureBeat in a phone interview.
“Many of us have come from the defense and intelligence side of things and we started realizing the structures we were seeing emerge from this,” Paterson said. “The commercial sexual exploitation environment was the exact same structure we were seeing in terrorist organizations, transnational organized crime, and others…with the connectivity and link indicators between them.”
The International Labour Organization estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are involved in forced sexual servitude and more than 21 million are victims of modern day slavery.
Memex crawls the deep web — sites that are not indexed by search engines like Google or Bing — and incorporate tech from more than a dozen teams of researchers at universities and companies like IST.
The DARPA website refers to fighting human trafficking as a “a key Defense Department mission.”
“The deep-web networks involved in human trafficking are closely related to other illicit and regionally destabilizing networks, including ones involving weapons and drugs. DARPA’s work is adding investigative and prosecutorial capacity in all these areas,” DARPA spokesperson Rick Weiss told VentureBeat in an email.
The study of informal economies like sex trade and prostitution through ads around the world led to the creation of the IST Pulse platform, Paterson said, a platform that is funded in part by the Department of Defense. Pulse looks for phone numbers or email addresses used, or commonalities like spacing and misspellings in sex ads on the deep web to track individuals.
The platform scours the deep web for irregularities and trends on the deep web and also includes ads for sex on sites like Craigslist.
The artificial intelligence and search tools used to focus on specific populations — like human traffickers — can also be used to focus on other specific groups, Paterson added.
“We’re interested in child soldiers, we’re doing work in central Africa right now with the Lord’s Resistance Army, fighting the LRA there, that Kony mission, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, what’s happening in Mosul, in Aleppo,” he said. “Our goal as a company has been how do we provide the ability to extract information from parts of the world where human security is a real issue, and pull that data and disconnected folks into the highly connected big data, policy, law, and investment spectrums.”
In addition, the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for Memex refers to the relation of human trafficking to crime and national security.
“Human trafficking is a line of business with significant web presence to attract customers and is relevant to many types of military, law enforcement, and intelligence investigations,” the BAA said. “The use of forums, chats, advertisements, job postings, hidden services, etc., continues to enable a growing industry of modern slavery.”
IST has worked with DARPA since 2012, Paterson said.
Rescue Forensics uses a combination of big data, predictive analytics, and computer forensics to provide law enforcement agencies with easy to read intelligence.
Tech that IST acquired from Rescue Forensics will be used to put knowledge in the hands of state and local law enforcement. IST now works with organizations like the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, and Rescue Forensics works with more than 450 agencies in various parts of the world.
IST is one of multiple software solutions now available to fight modern day slavery.
The startup TraffickCam was created by the Exchange Initiative that has so far collected more than 1.5 million geotagged images from the inside of hotel rooms. The website and iOS app is used to determine where sex crimes take place.
Made in a Free World uses software to detect signs of slave labor in the supply chains of large corporations.
The Polaris Project, from partners like Twilio.org and Salesforce, is used to help human trafficking victims quickly communicate with law enforcement officials.
IST Research is based in Fredericksburg, Virginia and has 50 employees.