What is Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)?

Open Source Intelligence is a term originally coined by intelligence agencies. OSINT uses freely available, open sources such as print media, TV or the Internet to collect information and gain intelligence. In addition to government organizations, private sector companies also use various OSINT techniques and tools.

What is Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)?

The acronym OSINT stands for open-source intelligence. It is a term originally coined by intelligence agencies. Open Source Intelligence uses information from open, freely available sources to gain the desired intelligence. Sources for gathering information include mass media such as television, radio, print media or the Internet. The information collected from these sources is analyzed, evaluated and linked together to gain knowledge.

Modern information and communication technology and the spread of the public Internet have contributed to a massive increase in the value of OSINT. A great deal of information is available on the Internet that can be collected and analyzed not only manually but also automatically. In addition to government organizations, private sector companies use various OSINT techniques and tools.

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Open-source intelligence can be used not only for intelligence purposes but also for business intelligence, cyber attacks, industrial espionage, or political purposes.

Typical OSINT sources

The characteristic of OSINT sources is that the information is freely available and publicly accessible. The sources can be online or offline sources. Typical OSINT sources are:

  • Television and radio
  • Print media such as newspapers, magazines, or books
  • Academic publications
  • Photographs and videos
  • Maps
  • Forums, blogs, social media sites, wikis, websites, and other sources on the Internet

Possible applications of OSINT

Open-source intelligence offers a wide range of uses and is not only used by government organizations such as intelligence agencies or police departments. Private companies and other organizations also use OSINT for various purposes. For example, Open Source Intelligence can be used for:

  • Business intelligence applications
  • Hacking
  • Social engineering
  • Penetration testing
  • Security analysis
  • Industrial espionage
  • Journalism
  • Marketing

Advantages of Open Source Intelligence

Compared to other types of information gathering and intelligence gathering, open-source intelligence offers several advantages. Due to digitization and a large amount of information available on the public Internet, the cost of information gathering is low. Many activities in this environment can be automated using tools. Those tasked with gathering information are at lower risk compared to, for example, spies in a hostile country. Since the information is accessed through public infrastructures and techniques, the risk of detection of the information gatherer is low.

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Internet tools for open-source intelligence

In the case of information gathering via the public Internet, numerous supporting tools are available. Both free tools such as search engines and commercial tools such as Maltego exist for gathering and analyzing the information.

These tools are able to extract information from various digital formats such as audio and video files, texts, images or program code. Typical functions of OSINT tools are:

  • Automated information search and information linking in social media
  • Automated query of web servers taking into account specific search terms
  • Automated search of metadata
  • Automated search in people directories
  • Automated image search and analysis
  • Automated search for geo-information