What is OSINT?
The proliferation of open-source data (OSD) – found across social media posts, self-published blogs, and other open-source repositories – is materially transforming the world of investigations. However, obtaining meaningful insights from the increasingly large volumes of publicly available data is the biggest challenge facing effective investigations today.
What is OSINT? OSINT is a military intelligence term, continuing to be a normal technique in counter-terrorism, counterintelligence and organised crime investigations. However, the potential and wide-reaching nature of OSINT has driven an expansion out of military and government applications into the private sector.
Defining OSINT and OSD
OSD and OSINT are often used interchangeably. It is important to understand the difference between the two terms and establish their relationship to one another.
One definition of OSINT is “intelligence that is produced from publicly available information and is collected, exploited, and disseminated in a timely manner to an appropriate audience for the purpose of addressing a specific intelligence requirement.”
• OSD is data from a wide range of publicly available sources.
• OSINT is information that has been deliberately extracted from OSD to answer specific questions, achieve specific objectives and drive informed decision-making processes.
OSD is the core material. OSINT is the finished product.
In order to appreciate the potential value of OSINT, it is important to understand OSD and publicly available information more generally.
OSINT is the application of intelligence gathering techniques and technology to investigations that make use of OSD. Properly done, this is key to managing OSD and using it to provide, useful investigatory outcomes. Advanced technologies and investigative techniques help to differentiate intelligence from data and enable connections across investigative platforms.
Whilst data has come to define the modern world and enables more accurate decision-making and deeper investigations, the sheer volume of data that exists can confuse and overwhelm analysis. Dependable and secure solutions are required to overcome issues with the variable reliability of sources, and the separate and siloed way in which data must often be accessed.
Using data to drive decision-making is a central challenge and opportunity for businesses and governments alike. Some data is privately protected, but a large percentage of data is publicly available. Public data (or “open source” data) is there for anyone to use, but it can be difficult to identify the relevant information at the right time. OSINT is the application of intelligence-led processes to transform OSD into meaningful, useful and usable insights.
With an increased focus on intelligence-led data analysis, OSINT is transforming investigatory best practice and creating far more robust outcomes across a range of cases and industries, including —
1. Fraud investigations
2. Brand protection
3. Insider threat identification
4. Illicit trade investigations
5. Due diligence
Expect to see OSINT become an increasingly important part of compliance, particularly in insurance and financial services, and therefore managing the potential of OSD is a vital investment in the future.