Open-source intelligence, or OSINT, is a term used to refer to any information which may be freely gathered from public sources; generally it refers to information that can be found on the internet. The term first came into use during the 1980s by the U.S. military that was looking for a method to remain up to date on information in order to gain a strategic advantage.
When we use the term OSINT, we are generally referring to the entire framework that includes tools, procedures, and techniques used to gather information from publicly-available resources. Historically, OSINT was a term used for data collected from standard, publicly-available sources such as various forms of media (radio, television, newspapers, etc.).
These days, we generally turn to online sources to gather information. We use resources such as discussion boards, blogs, various forms of social media, and even the dark and deep web. In fact, using social media as a source of information has become so prolific, it has developed into a subset known as social media intelligence or SOCMINT.
Some examples of OSINT data collecting are:
- Gathering information on a competitor, such as their employees or the services they offer.
- Isolating vulnerabilities in a system or network to exploit in the future
- Gathering data with the intention of performing a social engineering attack
- Gathering information by law enforcement agencies through public resources online to avert crimes
Advantages of Using Open Source Intelligence Techniques
OSINT techniques & methods have numerous advantages:
For smaller or private companies, regular data collecting tools and techniques may prove to be too big an investment. Using OSINT requires little to no financial investments as by definition the information is available for free.
- It’s Legal
Since the information gathered has not been defined as classified and has been publicly revealed with the consent of the original source, it is entirely legal to gather any data you may find.
- Regularly Updated
Due to the public nature of the resources used in OSINT, users are likely to add and update their information regularly.
- National Security
OSINT has proven to be an extremely useful tool in dealing with national security matters.
- Big Picture View
Business owners and other corporate decision-makers can gain a broader view of their investigations using OSINT information, allowing them to create long-term strategic plans to achieve a range of business goals.
Things to Keep in Mind
While OSINT is an amazingly useful tool for gathering information, there are a few things you should know before using it:
- You aren’t the only one using OSINT
As you have probably realized, while OSINT makes it easier for you to collect data on your competitors, the same is true for them. Your competitors or other threats may also use OSINT techniques to gather information on you or your organization – which makes using OSINT even more important to keep up and get the intelligence you need to stay one step ahead.
- Information must be applied practically
Collecting information serves no purpose unless you can create a plan of action or use the data collected in a significant way. Trying to sort the useful data from the vast quantity of unnecessary information is extremely difficult without technological tools designed for this purpose. OSINT requires tools that use AI and machine learning technology to truly reap the benefits open-source intelligence has to offer.
- Information must be confirmed
Even after you’ve found information that may be useful, you will need to confirm its accuracy before putting it to use. Companies and individuals may attempt to deliberately deceive potential threats by posting artificial information, and there is a lot of false information online that may or may not be deliberate. This is another situation where AI and ML tools come in handy to verify information, analyze sentiment and context in texts, and provide insights into the validity of the data you found.
- Information requires analysis
The raw information gathered must be analyzed and processed before any useful or actionable conclusions may be drawn. There is simply too much to feasibly analyze yourself, regardless of how big your team of analysts is. AI and ML-powered technology does the work for you, and ensures no stone is left unturned.