WeChat, IMO and OSINT

(First Published on Medium February 2020)

Further to my recent blog post on how we can leverage messenger apps for OSINT. I mentioned two apps that needed further examination, WeChat & IMO, the below is above and beyond entering a subject mobile number which you want to research but will give you a taster of what you can find.

Within the UK we have communities that are culturally diverse who have international heritage. This I’m sure will be replicated within Western Europe and the US too. It is important as an OSINT investigator in that case to look beyond the popular Western apps such as WhatsApp.

WeChat is enormously popular in China with over 1.132 billion monthly active users. A figure I found from 2016 suggested that WeChat is used by 70 million people outside of China too.

IMO isn’t as popular but boasts in the region of 200 million users as of 2018. From the research I carried out on the app, it appears popular in the Middle East, Pakistan & India.

Now both these apps appear not to have the same privacy considerations as other more popular messengering apps. This maybe down to a different cultural attitude towards privacy. From the articles I have read certainly the Chinese Government appears to have an amount of influence in relation to WeChat. I mentioned previously I was having issues with the desktop client, this I believe is down to the use of a VPN and other Opsec measures deployed.

WeChat is China’s version of Facebook, plus more. It has a search bar functionality, you can use it to buy items in a similar way to Apple Pay or Google Pay. I’ll stop there.

So moving on, within the WeChat, Discover menu you will see people who are nearby your location. I tested this feature at a venue I went to recently and it was showing people within 100 metres of my location. (I haven’t tested its accuracy)

The following information was using Paris as my location, someone appeared to be within 600 metres of my location however they do not appear to be a Parisian. In essence when you create your WeChat account you select the Region you are from. This person was from the city of Fuzhou in the Fujian Province of China.

The, “What’s Up” field is an area where you can add pretty much anything you like. In this case a mobile number appears to have been entered which has a French prefix. (Maybe a tourist who has purchased a French mobile for their trip.)

Now to protect this person privacy I won’t include any screenshots etc but what I can tell you, is that there was a name and profile picture. WeChat has a, Moments page on a user profile, similar if you will to Facebook’s Timeline On the 24th November 2019 this user had posted a picture of them self with the back drop of a coastline.

So we have a location, profile picture, name, mobile number and recent visited location, which could be reversed image searched, all within about 5 minutes.

IMO will show you in the, Explore, menu who is presently Online, Nearby Groups and also a Live option, which allows you to stream live. When I tested this on a burner I-Phone the live option wasn’t available. Within the Live menu you have, Recommend, Nearby, Language & Country.

These Explore options are no way as granular as WeChat. So for instances the, “Nearby Group” option returns groups quite a distance away probably reflected in the fact that this app is not as popular as WeChat.

The, “Who is presently on line,” will allow you to send a, “Wave” to anyone and they can also sent you a wave back. Once you accept a wave you can start chatting. You do not have to sent a, “Wave” to see their profile information.

From an OSINT perspective it allows you access to their profile picture and any other bio information they may have on show. You will obtain the name that they have given themselves too as is the same with WeChat. Something to note, you can see people who have visited you in your profile settings so it goes without saying that your subject will be able to see your visits too.

So I looked at someone who was online and found the following information came from the first person on the list.

Name, profile picture, the city in the UK where they lived, their employment status, current relationship status as well as what may have been a picture of their living room. Clearly from an OSINT perspective there are opportunities to explore from what has been found.

Now the purpose of this blog is to highlight the potential for OSINT if we look outside of the traditional messaging apps that we associate with the West and to give a little bit of an insight on what can be found. If you want to use this blog to improve your privacy, then that’s cool too.

Disclaimer:- before attempting to use any of these apps please think of your OpSec and do not use any device that is linked to you personally. What you discover will be dictated by the privacy settings of the other users.

Also a little clarity in relation to the use of an emulator, one article I read in relation to WeChat stated that if WeChat detected the use of an emulator they would suspend your account.

In my next blog I will write about the setup I used to conduct the research into the messenger apps.

OSINT & Messenger Apps

(First Published On Medium January 2020)

Throughout 2019 one thing that is obvious about the OSINT community is how much work people do in their own time and how willing they are to share their work.

So I decided that over the Christmas Holidays I would look at the many messenger apps that are available and see what information could be leveraged using a Subject’s mobile phone number. I wanted to see what information could be obtained from the app and the desktop versions. This is very much a whistle stop tour and please take what I have done and build on it.

Below is an illustration of which apps are popular across the Globe.

Source www.messengerpeople.com

Much of what you will be able to discover about a target mobile number will depend not just on the privacy settings of your target app but also your privacy settings.

It is important to learn how each app works and what potential trace you leave your Subject to see.

All the apps seen here offer the investigator / researcher different things and rely somewhat on the on the information that the target has supplied when creating their accounts.

Strava, Voxer, Skype, have the potential to give location information and other personal information. Apps such as GroupMe, Line, Skype, Strava,Telegram, Wire will provide you with the name that the target has provided when the account was created and not the one that you may have created in your contacts.

Apple Facetime and Google Duo do not seem to offer much in relation to profile photo or personal information. Where they do come in useful however is that you are able to potentially confirm the existence of an Apple or Google account.

Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram appear to make searching contacts difficult in that they will blend you contact in amongst other people so obfuscating your Subject.

You have to sometimes be patient too as not all the apps sync straightaway or are consistent in how often they sync.

Google Duo - App & Website

Confirms a person is on Duo.
It will tell the person that you have added them to your contacts that you are now on Duo too, so this may be an issue depending on what your objective is.
For those in LE however it does present an opportunity because you have a real world number associated with a Google product.

Facebook Messenger - App / Website

Profile Picture and details from a Facebook bio.


What I have noticed is that if you add a contact on an Apple I-Phone it will tell you whether that contact number is on Facetime. So we can easily establish that your subject is potentially using an Apple product.
For those in LE it presents an opportunity because you have a real world number associated with an Apple product.

GroupMe - App / Website

Will provide Profile photos the name of the contact on the Server not from your phonebook.

ICQ - App / Website

Profile Picture, Nickname, Name, BIO & last seen.
Will show when someone is on-line.

IMO - App / Desktop

Profile Picture and also the name they have provided to their account as well as last seen.
It will show the other person if they are on IMO that you have joined and that you have added then to your contacts.
IMO also shows everyone who is presently on-line (not just your Subject) and also nearby groups but this is something I am still exploring.


Profile picture. The other person has to have altered the settings to allow them to be added as a contact
Your subject will see you as a Friend / Friends Recommendation depending on their phone. It will also show when someone is on-line.
When you click on your contact it will show the name you have given them but underneath it will also show you the name they have given them themselves, as their display name.

Skype - App / Desktop

Skype is one of my favourites as people who use it tend to give up more information, which I assume is down to the fact this is a professional / business messenger service.
Skype will display, username, profile picture. It will provide the name as per the server not your contacts, also location information of where they say they are from along with a date of birth.

SOMA - App

Profile Picture, last scene online, status (Very similar to Whatsapp)

Telegram - App / Desktop

You can see a user’s profile photo, username and bio along with their last seen.
If you are using the desktop client of Telegram it will show their previous profile photos too.
Now I have had mixed results depending on the device I have been using. If your Subject  is not on Telegram it will tell you how many of their contacts are.
One of my favourite bloggiest @aware-online has an excellent tutorial on how geolocate groups on Telegram.


Will show profile picture and the name on Strava server not in your contacts. Will also show the location they are from if this field has been completed and Bio info.

Viber - App / Desktop

Viber will enable you to see a person’s profile picture as well as last seen, online. (Very similar to Whatsapp)


• Profile Picture, username, location of where they say they are from.

WeChat - App

• I am still working with this one as I am having issues with the web version.
• With WeChat you have to get another user to scan your QR code to enable you to use the app.
• You can see a person’s profile picture.
• Similar to Telegram you can see nearby users which will show you their profile picture and name.

WhatsApp ¬– App / Desktop

Profile picture, Last seen, Status & About Me.
Even if, “Last Seen,” is disabled and their privacy settings are locked down you can still appear to be able to see when your subject is on-line.

Wickr – App / Desktop

Username & profile picture.
You can choose to add a phone number too which is then searchable, email and names are also searchable. You can see their online status. You can search for rooms.

Wire - App / Desktop

Profile username, picture and name from Wire servers.

Now I have left this one to the last:-

Signal - App / Desktop

From what I can see it is very difficult to leverage anything from Signal apart from confirmation that somebody has the app. For those who like their privacy this may just be the app for you.