What is OSINT (Open Source Intelligence)?

Have you ever wondered how investigative journalists, government agencies, or law enforcement agencies can gather obscure information?

You may have heard of the term “open source intelligence” (OSINT). It may sound complicated and not at your fingertips, but it is not.

Read also: What is social engineering: how it works, types and examples

What is OSINT?

First of all, we need to divide the term into two parts. On the Internet, “open source”Refers to any information publicly available online. “intelligence“Means any information collected for prudent professional purposes. Together, they refer to information gathered from public resources on the Internet.

According to Uncle Sam’s state defense department, OSINT is defined as “information generated from publicly available information and collected, exploited, and disseminated in a timely manner to an appropriate audience in order to meet specific information requirements.”

At the same time, you need to be aware of non-OSINT information, such as the collection of personal information for you, such as text messages or emails between your friends.

A simple Google search does not count as OSINT. The practice goes beyond simply entering keywords into a search engine and digging into what is known as “deep web” sites or pages that are on the Internet but cannot be accessed by regular search engines such as Google or Yahoo.

Read also: What is the Dark Web?

Where does OSINT come from?

OSINT practice is not new. Its origins can be traced back to the United States military during World War II, where the United States established the so-called External Transmission Monitoring Service (FBMS) to collect, analyze, and access public information released by foreign organizations. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the US government set up an Open Source Center (OSC) under the CIA.

Before the Internet, OSINT was collected through simpler sources, such as newspapers, magazines, television and radio recordings, photographs, and so on. With social media becoming an integral part of many, if not all, personal and professional activities in the 21st century, gathering public information on social media platforms has become part of OSINT. A new term has also appeared to describe this, SOCMINT (social media intelligence), and is classified as part of OSINT.

Who uses OSINT?

OSINT is used by professionals in various industries. For example:

  • Journalists collect information on a topic to help them with investigative reports.
  • Cybersecurity professionals monitor and identify hackers.
  • Law enforcement is collecting evidence for criminal cases.
  • Companies collect data about companies while performing due diligence.

Many companies now offer OSINT training to employees. Some even have a dedicated team of analysts and market researchers who conduct OSINT activities.

What is the purpose of using OSINT?

As the example above shows, OSINT is very important and widely used in a wide variety of industries. They serve the same purpose, which is to detect potentially suspicious or illegal activities. They are also used by companies to protect themselves and their customers from data breaches and privacy.

OSINT is generally a less expensive method of data collection than traditional methods of investigation. Many OSINT tools are subscription-based and offer companies a variety of packages to suit their needs.

The open source intelligence of social networks is constantly updated. A person’s recently updated Facebook public status, for example, will be more recent and therefore relevant than a news article written about them five years ago.

The statutory definition of OSINT also guarantees that it is a legal practice. Data protection laws that have been introduced in recent years, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, strengthen the legal basis for OSINT. As long as the company operates OSINT within the specified limits and in accordance with the law, all information obtained is valid and usable.

What are the disadvantages of OSINT?

OSINT sounds strong, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have weaknesses. Many professionals who use OSINT face an overload of information and it can take a long time to filter every detail.

In addition, when running SOCMINT, it is very difficult to verify the validity of every detail collected. One of the disadvantages of the OSINT tool is that many tools do not have a fact-checking function, so distinguishing between true and false news is a difficult task.

Three OSINT tools for beginners

Not only companies can access OSINT tools. If you are interested in exploring the world of OSINT, here are some simple and popular tools you can use.

1. Malta

Founded in 2008, Maltego is the industry’s leading OSINT tool. This tool is able to monitor and map the relationships between entities, providing visualization of results that facilitate the work of researchers. It is also very useful for identifying malware.

Maltego operates under license with a variety of packages to choose from. The company also provides training and technical support to business customers.

2. The Harvester

The Harvester is used to search for company data and assess its external threats on the Internet. This tool collects data from over twenty major search engines and websites, including Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Twitter, and gathers any information it can find in the public domain.

3. Wayback Machine

Have you ever tried to search for a webpage, only to find that it no longer exists? Wayback Machine is here to support all of this. This site is basically an internet archive. Just enter the name of the page you are looking for, and the engine will return with each relevant page removed.

Conclusion

So what is OSINT? OSINT, or open source intelligence, is the practice of gathering information from published or publicly available sources. In an age of social networking where almost anything can be found online, OSINT seems like a powerful and comprehensive tool. But we must remember that in any form, by any method, performing a background check will always have risks.

The purpose of OSINT is not what you find, but what you do with what you find. As long as the information collected is used professionally and ethically, OSINT can help protect vulnerable online communities from cyber security threats.


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