OSINT Tools For Protecting Our Communities

January 6, 2022

Open source intelligence methods and techniques are used routinely by public safety intelligence analysts and investigators to keep our communities safe. But the use of OSINT spans beyond public safety – it can be used by researchers, educators, and social advocates to create important changes that enhance our daily lives.

OSINT stands for open-source intelligence, which means gathering important, and critical information for research and investigations. Let’s have a look at some examples illustrating the benefits of using OSINT.

OSINT Detects Human Trafficking and Child Abuse

Protecting vulnerable human beings and children is a priority for all communities. Authorities conduct online investigations to identify pedophiles, sexual predators, and human traffickers to stop their activities and rescue their victims. These investigations use OSINT to get crucial information, evidence and clues while fully complying with applicable privacy laws and regulations. Thanks to the information resulting from these investigations, the criminals and their organizations can be identified successfully.

OSINT Helps Rescue Missing People

Missing people, like all netizens, leave digital traces on the internet. When a person goes missing, publicly available data can be very helpful. Apart from missing individuals, OSINT tools and methods are also used in case of natural disasters when communication lines and the infrastructures of local communities are disrupted. By searching publicly-available information, authorities and first responders can locate and rescue missing and endangered citizens in their communities.

OSINT Can Prevent Terrorist Attacks

During the last decades, we have witnessed some horrific terrorist attacks that can still be felt in the respective communities to this day. The 9/11 attacks (2001), the Mumbai attacks (2008), the Boston Marathon bombings (2013), and the Charlie Hebdo attack (2015) are just a few examples of attacks that reshaped our lives. Preventing terrorist attacks is a high priority for every community, and intelligence gathering is the cornerstone. As the saying goes, “forewarned is forearmed”. Gathering actionable intelligence entails analysis of vast amounts of big data from publicly accessible sources. OSINT tools and methods play a crucial part in these investigations.

OSINT is Used to Identify Cybercriminals

Almost every community and organization is hit by cybercrime, such as ransomware attacks that paralyze the operations of e.g., hospitals, municipalities, and infrastructures. Threat actors specializing in cybercrime are often part of a criminal organization. They operate in a shadow economy where toolkits for cyberattacks are bought and sold, affiliates are hired, stolen assets are put up for sale on websites and message boards, payments take place in cryptocurrency to avoid detection by the authorities, etc. These threat actors are savvy when it comes to staying under the radar, but even they leave their digital footprints behind. OSINT tools and methods are used to trace these activities on the deep and dark web, to follow the money stream of e.g., ransom payments following a ransomware attack. Authorities have successfully identified some kingpins using evidence gathered from open-source intelligence. As a result, several notorious cybergangs and networks were dismantled, hopefully permanently.

These are just a few examples out of many, which present the usage of open-source intelligence and how it protects us and our communities, enabling us a safer world. I invite you to learn more about how OSINT has been used by academics, non-profit agencies and others to create true societal change.

John O'Hare

Lieutenant Johnmichael O’Hare retired from the Hartford Police (CT) in 2018. His career elevated investigative units that specifically attacked narcotics and firearms violence. In 2013, he was tasked with creating a Real-Time Intelligence Center that could support critical functions & provide analytical and forensic back support. He currently serves as a Business Development/Sales Director with Cobwebs Technologies with a focus on Threat Network Identification & Interdiction in the Web Intelligence Realm.

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