Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is any information that can be accessed by the public. This accessibility is defined as anything that doesn’t require hacking or private credentials to read or collect the information. Google search results, broadcast news, online forums, and social media (sometimes called SOCMINT) are all examples of OSINT.

OSINT includes information from the “dark web” and other data sources that won’t show up in standard search engines. It also encompasses the “internet of things” (IoT) – information gathered by any device with internet connectivity. Public sources have always been used by both organizations and individuals, but the internet has made it easier to compile and analyze this wealth of data in a cohesive, productive way.

How Is Open Source Intelligence Used?

The applications of open-source intelligence are endless. OSINT covers such a wide range of information that it can be used in nearly every facet of your organization.

For example, open-source intelligence can be used to determine what your customer base expects from your industry and what you should deliver to them moving forward. You can also use “social listening” to understand your reputation among current and potential clients. OSINT can help to compile multiple narratives from a variety of sources, to create an in-depth picture of how an event may have occurred and what the effect of that event might be. This is particularly useful in studying cyber breaches or other security failures.

Penetration testing is another way that OSINT can be used to benefit your company. A company of any size will generate and collect a large amount of data that is readily visible to malicious parties.

Ethical hackers can use the information available about your company, plus knowledge of current hacking schemes, to give you an idea of what vulnerabilities might be found by a criminal investigating your company. This will help with your risk assessments as it will show you what areas of your cybersecurity program are at risk and need increased protection.

Always remember, however, that whatever information is available to you is also available to hackers and other malicious actors. For example, criminals can use information from your company website to identify targets for phishing or malware schemes. Information about your company can be manipulated by those who want to access your sensitive data and steal your information. Using OSINT to develop your security program can help you beat hackers at their own game.

What Are the Benefits of Open Source Intelligence?

One of the primary benefits of using OSINT is that it’s free. Gathering and analyzing open-source intelligence will cost you nothing, especially if you can do this work in-house. Implementing the information already at your disposal can save you money otherwise spent on contractors and independent research firms.

Another bonus is that your right to OSINT will never be in question. The information you’ve gathered is information you’re legally allowed to have. It’s also always available; you don’t need expensive technology or a paid subscription to acquire OSINT.

Finally, the information you’re gathering is the most current available. The internet is a powerful tool that can provide you not only with the history of your industry but also real-time information on where it may be headed in the future. This can be helpful in outlining your future goals for growth and ensuring that your company stays relevant for many years to come.

What Is an Open Source Intelligence Analyst?

Just because OSINT is readily available, that doesn’t mean it’s readily acquired or easily understood. The sheer volume of OSINT makes it difficult to refine everything down to information that’s helpful or usable specifically to you.

Given the breadth of OSINT, people scanning that information do need a certain amount of specialization to determine what is and is not useful. An open-source intelligence analyst is able to take the raw data available online and apply it to specific scenarios that will benefit your company. He or she will also be able to use analysis tools to organize the data into graphs and charts that will make it easy to communicate findings to board members and stakeholders.

What Are Some Open Source Intelligence Tools & Techniques?

A critical component to any OSINT research is to know what you’re looking for; searching without a plan or list of queries will be an overwhelming and ultimately unsuccessful process. Setting your goals upfront will help you narrow your search to the exact open source information you need.

Once you’ve decided what you’re looking for, you’ll need to devise a program for information gathering. There is no single correct way to research OSINT, but most techniques can be broken down into two categories: passive and active collection.

Passive collection is limited to easily available information, and is most frequently used when the researcher would like to retain anonymity. Active collection takes a more focused methodology, and usually requires interaction with the topic or target. Hackers and IT security professionals alike will use OSINT techniques that fall into these two groups.

There are a number of OSINT tools available that an analyst or your staff can use. One of the simplest are “google dorks,” specific search queries that help you narrow your search results to more exact specifications. Beyond basic searches, there are also platforms and websites that can highlight specific areas of interest and create a centralized source of information.

Your security teams in particular could possibly benefit from the use of Threat Intelligence Platforms (TIPs), online aggregates that collect updated information on security threats like malware and phishing schemes. Penetration testers may use sites like Shodan, which access different parts of the internet than a standard google search; or Maltego, which determines what seemingly unrelated pieces of information may have in common.

ZenGRC Is Your Secure Intelligence Solution

Open-source intelligence is an important tool that can help you protect your company from threats. It is, however, only one piece of a successful risk management program. To provide the best possible security for your organization, you’ll need a solution that tracks your risk throughout every department.

If you’re seeking help for your risk management efforts, ZenGRC can help. This innovative software can provide your company with a single source of truth – one central location where all of your risk is tracked, assigned, and controlled. Schedule a demo today to learn how ZenGRC can streamline your risk management and keep your sensitive information safe.