BREAKING: Indoor geolocation challenge results in fun

Rules were broken, guesses were made, lessons were learned

As I continue to mourn my father, I visit places that had special significance to him — and turn my visits into geolocation challenges.

This latest one had people stumped for a little while:

When it’s an indoor challenge such as this one, many people assume that they are not going to be able to figure it out.

When that happens, I ask people to consider how a stalker or a foreign intelligence would act if they wanted to pinpoint my location. Would they give up so easily? Of course not.

The important visual clues included the peculiar countertop with the nature motif, the floor I am sitting on, the niche I am in, and, crucially, this little detail:

What does it tell you? Well, it could be random, but it could also be a sign that I’m not posing in some random nook at a bus station or whatever. It seems like the nook has a purpose.

Now, taking the information available in the picture, what does a good OSINT researcher do? That’s right, they begin to cross-reference other publicly available data.

The first person to figure out my general location did just that. Congratulations, Daria!

What did Daria cross-reference in this instance? She was helpful enough to explain:

If you’re new to this newsletter, you’re probably slightly weirded out by this turn of events, but as I like to keep reminding people: Both the outcomes of these fun games and outcomes for your personal security depend on how the information you post publicly can be cross-referenced for clues.

I deliberately posted a bunch of Instagram stories from my public account in order to document our visit to the museum and to leave clues for my followers.

In doing this, I broke one of my own cardinal rules, which is DO NOT POST STORIES ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS IN REAL TIME. While I did it for the sake of the game, I also did it understanding that someone, anyone, could see those stories and try to meet up with me in the museum. Unfortunately, there are unwell people in the DC area who could try to scare me or worse (one of the reasons I am so interested in PERSEC is because it’s an issue I’ve had to personally worry about, both when I worked in Moscow and right here in DC).

So I don’t necessarily recommend doing what I did, but, as the pesky Russians say, “They who don’t take risks don’t get to drink champagne” + my beloved Museum of Natural History is a public space and is also fairly secure. If I were to do a similar challenge, with similar clues, but not in a space like that, I’d make sure to have at least one big guy with me, to be quite honest, and, again, I sadly speak from experience.

Having said all that, let’s get into the specifics of my location.

Javi did a great job:

As did Cowboy:

I love this part of the Mammal Hall, both because it features a brown bear that my dad really loved nearby, and because you can climb into these cozy nooks and check out what the habitats of small, burrowing creatures look like.

I’m a writer first and foremost, and the symbolism is not lost on me. It’s all a bit like open source investigations work too. We open up windows on other lives, in good ways and bad.

Now, in the course of this game, there were also some good guesses about where I was, and I want to highlight their importance.

Check out Katnip:

Here is some good logic too. With enough searching and cross-referencing, this person would’ve gotten the challenge, of that I have no doubt:

And check out Leonard, who correctly noted the outfit (which COULD have been another clue, if I had constructed the challenge this way):

Now, if Leonard had pursued this particular inquiry, he may have noticed that my dark roots seem bigger in the newer photo than in the one above — just to give an example. Appearance can be a very important factor. That Legally Blonde joke about how a woman who’d just had a perm wouldn’t have been in the shower is not a joke, of course. There are different aspects to open source intelligence, and you must never estimate how someone’s hair may play a role (and this is precisely why this field shouldn’t just be dominated by nerdy dudes who go to Great Clips, mwahaha).

This very mode of thinking is important, because it will ultimately teach you how bad people think too. Geolocation can be used for ill or for good — but it inevitably involves the process of elimination, hitting dead ends, and re-tracing your steps. By knowing how it works, you will also know when you are exposing too much info about yourself.

It truly is a privilege to do these exercises with you guys — and while visiting my dad’s old haunts, no less. I hope to bring you more soon!

Did you have fun? Did you learn something new? If so, please consider a paid subscription! $5 a month can actually pay for a whole lot of bleach and great toner! Not to mention helping me keep these exercises completely open to the public. Also, I do teach seminars on the intersection and OSINT and PERSEC as well. E-mail me at nvantonova (at) gmail [dot] com to learn more.