Since the end of the Cold War, global societies have become more open, and the revolution and widespread use of the Internet has turned the world into a small village. Today, the majority of the world’s population has access to the Internet, and people use it to socialize, shop, communicate with peers, share files and information, work from home, and for entertainment. According to statista, 4.57 billion people were active Internet users in April 2020 or 59 percent of the world’s population. By 2030, the number of Internet users is estimated at 7.5 billion, which is 90 percent of the world population at that time, according to cybersecurity ventures. The explosive growth of the Internet and communications technology will move most human activities into what is now called cyberspace.
As global societies move steadily towards digitalization, a huge amount of digital data will be produced as a result of the interactions of people and businesses in cyberspace. A good percentage of this data is publicly available, and knowing how to use this data opens up many opportunities for organizations to expand their activities and operate more efficiently in today’s information age.
Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) is a term that refers to all publicly available information that is used to meet a specific intelligence need. OSINT resources can take two forms, offline or online. However, with the ongoing digitalization of the world, most of the OSINT intelligence is now taken from Internet resources.
OSINT resources must not only be publicly available but must also be legally accessible without violating copyrights or laws protecting personal data. This fact makes the collection of OSINT information applicable to more than just security needs. For example, companies can use OSINT to obtain information about their competitors and plan to enter new markets.
In this article we will define the term OSINT, talk about its types, parties interested in collecting OSINT, examine the benefits of OSINT, and discuss the challenges of collecting OSINT information.
OSINT resources include all publicly available information. Under this definition, some people may think that “public” means only free resources, but this is not correct. For example, paid information contained in academic publications, books, and journals is also considered part of OSINT resources. OSINT resources can be divided into the following categories depending on where the data is found:
We can consider information or data in general as open-source when it is:
OSINT can be utilized by different actors with various motivations. In the following, we discuss various actors and their approach to utilizing OSINT.
Incorporating OSINT mechanisms into corporation processes will bring tremendous benefits and increase the overall business efficiency to respond to both inside and outside threats. We can recognize the following benefits:
Lawyers and private investigators can ethically and legally utilize OSINT techniques – especially information found on social media platforms – in legal and litigation intelligence to collect evidence and research about any suspect or potential juror.
OSINT offers the critical capability for law enforcement agencies and other security services to enhance their intelligence capability to combat crimes and protect citizens, forces, communities, businesses, and public services from organized crime, terrorism, and all kinds of cyber-related threats. As most internet users own at least one social media account, plenty of personal information can be gathered from social media platforms and Internet-based communication to gather intelligence about criminals, understand their ideology and identify possible criminals before they even commit their crimes. Even force protection is often established by analyzing OSINT information.
Criminals and black hat hackers employ OSINT tactics and techniques in the same way the good people utilize to gather intelligence about targets before launching their attack. Social engineering attacks start after gathering adequate information about the target. The collected information is used to customize the attack according to each person, thus increasing the chance of successful intrusion.
The advantages of OSINT are obvious for all organization types. In the following, we explain the most important ones:
The biggest challenge in collecting open-source intelligence is the sheer volume of digital data, the ever-increasing number of data sources, and the unreliability of the information. As the digital transformation moves steadily to include all work and live aspects, searching within this tremendous mass of structured and unstructured public data becomes too difficult and time-consuming.
At Traversals, we apply machine learning techniques to equip OSINT analysts with the necessary skills and abilities to meet the OSINT challenges.
Driven by the huge technological advancements and the widespread of Internet-based communications, OSINT becomes a vital component for any organization that wants to explore the range of online information that could either bring harm to the business or empower its decision-making process with actionable intelligence.
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