Open-source intelligence (OSINT) refers to the collection of publicly available data through free and open-source tools to produce information. OSINT tools are designed to gather information about targeted businesses or individuals. While any internet user can perform simple OSINT activities, a sophisticated OSINT system can compare, contrast, and combine data about specific subjects to provide more credible results.
As software, OSINT tools help you to learn more about your target than what you can obtain through search engines. However, a web browser or search engine can also be an OSINT tool for simple investigations. These tools typically gather data from various sources, including:
- Published data, open for free
- Data available with a subscription
- Data from media channels and broadcasts
- Information shared by governmental sources
- Information shared by search engines
Advantages of Osint
We are living in the information age, and different industries rely on OSINT software for their businesses, such as the legal industry, media, journalists, private investigators, human resources, marketing, and sales departments. Additionally, states use OSINT for critical national security issues, such as military, terrorist activities, and special investigations. OSINT helps them to investigate people and gain deeper insights into situations. Today, many governments benefit from open-source information, and some intelligence agencies, like the CIA, have dedicated OSINT teams. Cybersecurity is another field that uses OSINT intensively in both governmental organizations and the private sector. Companies have invested more in OSINT systems in recent years due to the increased cyber threats. Consequently, the number of OSINT tools and firms, especially start-ups, has increased to meet the demand.
However, OSINT agents must keep in mind that data gathered from open sources are variable in nature, and these data have some reliability problems because online information about people may not always reflect the truth about them.
- Here are some examples of how OSINT can be helpful:
- Conducting a background check for an employee or candidate
- Analyzing customers and searching for potential ones
- Performing onboarding and KYC/CDD procedures
- Controlling customer or member registration
- Establishing a target audience
- Checking transactions mediated by your firm
- Performing credit checks
- Protecting the supply chain from the effects of crises
- Conducting market investigations locally and internationally
- Comparing competitors
- Conducting SWOT analysis
- Detecting information leakage
- Performing risk assessment and risk management
- Implementing cost-effective systems
- Identifying possible future problems
Osint Tools for Fraud
On the other side of the coin, the same beneficial OSINT systems can be used by fraudsters and hackers for financial crimes. Identity theft and synthetic identity fraud are two of the most common examples of fraud using OSINT data. Besides individual hazards, OSINT can be used for more significant social engineering attacks against corporate companies or governmental bodies, security systems, etc.
However, the same systems are also used to defend against these kinds of attacks. For example, the tools can create a whole digital identity of customers with a collection of different personal information. Thus, a fake ID established by a social engineer can be detected by systems.
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Choosing the Right Software
After the rise of social media and open-source data, institutions have recognized their need for more information and are willing to invest in tools that can provide OSINT solutions for companies. There are many software systems available today, each with its own specialized fields and features, so it is essential to determine the specific needs of a company first. Here are some important points to consider when selecting an open-source data tool:
- Determine the tool's specialized area for collecting data. Some tools are better suited for analyzing relationships between people, organizations, and institutions, while others are better for uncovering living conditions or actual status of people under investigation.
- Consider the amount of data the tool can access. Although all sources used by OSINT software are open, different devices have different capacities when it comes to information channels. If you do not require complex data variations, a simple OSINT system may suffice.
- Determine if the system is user-friendly. Since these products generally work with vast amounts of data, it is possible to see tangled outcomes. However, some tools offer easy-to-read results, use graphs and charts to visualize data, and summarize the information collected for users. These features can be valuable for setting strategies and action plans based on knowledge from collecting data.
- Check if the program can uncover or unmask hidden information and relationships. Although internet users try to hide their connections, different channels inevitably include different information. An OSINT tool may be capable of discovering these connections, whereas others may just serve as data collection tools.
- Identify the program used by your institution, such as Windows, Linux, or Mac. The setup process varies depending on your company's existing system, and not all tools can work with all systems.
- Determine whether an in-house team and solution can fulfill your needs. Not all institutions require sophisticated technologies to meet their requirements, and an in-house team may be more cost-effective and tailored to your company.
- Decide whether you need a software system or if a web extension tool is sufficient for your needs. Web extensions may collect only basic information instead of a comprehensive system, so it is important to determine your needs before deciding on the tool. Although extensions may have limited information, they offer several critical data sets such as IP addresses, domains, IOCs, URLs, or wallet addresses that can be more focused and specified according to your company's needs.
- Several free options meet basic requirements such as names, email addresses, or phone numbers. These can be found on GitHub and are available to everyone.