A Guide to Open Source Intelligence Gathering (OSINT)

    Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is insightful information acquired through the collection and analysis of publicly available data sources such as TV and radio broadcasts, websites and social media. Data is gained from these and other sources through audio, image, text and video formats.

    Open-source intelligence gathering is primarily utilized for national security,business intelligence and law enforcement purposes. It’s also very useful for analysts who need intelligence of a non-sensitive nature for their work, often involves meeting unclassified, classified and proprietary requirements for intelligence across a variety of intelligence-gathering industries.

    There are six OSINT informational flow categories:

    1. Public Governmental Data: Publicly available government reports, press conferences, speeches, budgets, telephone directories and websites. Despite being from official, governmental sources, they are publicly accessible and thus can be gathered freely.
    2. Commercial Data: Financial and industrial databases, assessments and commercial images and branding.
    3. Grey Literature: Working papers, unpublished works, preprints, technical reports, newsletters, patents and business documents.
    4. Internet: Blogs, media from people (ex. user-created content like smartphone videos), discussion groups and publications. This includes content from social media sites. This is a notable source as its content is very timely (sometimes happening in real-time) and can be easily accessed when compared to most of the other intelligence sources.
    5. Academic and Professional Publications: Information from conferences, academic papers, theses, dissertations, journals and symposia.
    6. Media: TV broadcasts from around the world, radio broadcasts, magazines and print newspapers.

    Research is considered a different sort of data gathering than OSINT. This is because OSINT applies intelligence-gathering to adjusted and reshaped knowledge that is advantageous for certain decisions or initiatives of a specific group, organization or individual.

    OSINT Definition and Examples :

    People may have some ideas about intelligence gathering. But many would likely still ask “What is OSINT? OSINT can be defined as intelligence acquired from openly available data sources, collected and distributed promptly to a specific audience to accomplish a delimited intelligence-gathering requirement.

    Examples of OSINT include:

    • Researching public forums on how to fix major car damage
    • Watching a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) video on how to grill a medium-rare steak
    • Inquiring about winter socks on a search engine

    This means that an OSINT user doesn’t have to be a business analyst or a government agent.Ordinary people use OSINT in both their personal and professional lives, very often without even knowing it.

    How OSINT Works

    OSINT is gathered through the collection of publicly available data sources, taken from audio,images, texts and videos. These data sources are analyzed through deep neural network algorithms and machine learning to learn and become more proficient at pattern recognition, data relationships and trends among different sorts of intelligence-related data. For instance, in a TV panel discussion, OSINT intelligence can identify the panel participants (video analytics), social media reactions to the panel discussion (text analytics) and notable points and key topics discussed (text and speech analytics). The result of OSINT intelligence gathered from this panel discussion may reveal viewer sentiments, trends and opinion clusters focused on the panel’s topics.

    In cybersecurity, some of the most popular OSINT techniques include:

    • Gathering employee job roles, software that they currently use and their full names

    • Identifying the social networks a target company or user has active accounts on

    • Take advantage of people data collection resources

    • Access cached data from search engines

    • Search through old versions of webpages to discover information that was changed or removed in newer iterations

    • Review corporate and consumer actions on blogs and virtual forums

    • Locate videos and photographs on photo-sharing sites

    • Take advantage of OSINT extensions for a web browser

    • Implement automated OSINT tools that will recover selected, relevant information

    • Learn about an individual’s geographic location using open sources of satellite imagery

    • Check content uploaded by target users or companies on social media sites

    Once all of this data is collected through OSINT gathering techniques, it has to be filtered and converted into a format that a non-technical person can understand and act upon.

    Understanding what OSINT is and how it works is important for individuals, companies and any piece of data relevant to any of these parties. Knowing how practitioners in the trade of OSINT operate is critical not only for strengthening a cybersecurity investigation or for creating intelligence reports. It also is very important for individuals’ attempting to hide and secure information that may be very important to an individual or organization, something that the target may not want to leave open to the public to access and learn about. Beyond preventing the tracking of sensitive personal data, locations and online activities, many people and companies should be searching for means to hide information like IP addresses, domain names and servers from the public domain

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