Beginners Guide to OSINT – Chapter 1

DISCLAIMER: I’m not an Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) professional (not even close). I’ve done some courses (got a cert), written some code and spend far too much using Maltego. OSINT is a subject I enjoy, it’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing. This blog series is MY interpretation of how I do (and view) OSINT related things. You are more than welcome to disagree or ignore what I say.

The first chapter in the OSINT journey is going to cover the subject of “What is OSINT and what can we use it for”, sorry it’s the non technical one but I promise not to make it too long or boring.

What is OSINT??

OSINT is defined by wikipedia as:

“Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is intelligence collected from publicly available sources. In the intelligence community (IC), the term “open” refers to overt, publicly available sources (as opposed to covert or clandestine sources); it is not related to open-source software or public intelligence.” (source)

For the purpose of this blog series we are going to be talking about OSINT from online sources, so basically anything you can find on the internet. The key point for me about OSINT is that it (in my opinion) only relates to information you can find for free. Having to pay to get access to information such as an API or raw data isn’t really OSINT material. You are essentially paying someone else to collect the data (that’s the OSINT part) and then just accessing their data. I’m not saying that’s wrong or should be a reason not to use data from paid sources, it’s just (and again just my opinion) not really OSINT in its truest form.

Pitfalls of OSINT

Before we go any further I just wanted to clarify something about collecting data via OSINT. This is something that I often talk to people about and there are varying different opinions about it. When you collect some data via OSINT methods it’s important to remember that the data is only as good as the source you collect it from. The simple rule is “Don’t trust the source, don’t use it”.

You also need to consider about the way that the data is collected. Let me explain a bit more, consider this scenario (totally made up).

You spot someone (within a corporate environment) called Ronny emailing a file called “secretinformation.docx” to an external email address of ronnythespy@madeupemail.com. You decide to do some “OSINT” to work out if the two Ronnies are the same people. Using a tool or chunk of code (in a language you don’t know) you decide that you have enough information to link the two Ronnies together.

Corporate Ronny takes you to court to claim unfair dismissal, during the court procedures you are asked (as the expert witness) how the information was collected. Now you can explain the process you followed (run code or click on the tool) but can you explain how the tool or chunk of code provided you with that information or the methods it used to collect it (where they lawful for example)?

For me, that’s the biggest consideration when using OSINT material if you want to use it to provide true value to what you are trying to accomplish. Being able to collect the information is one thing, validating the methods or techniques on how it was collected is another. Again this is a conversation I have many, many times and I work on this simple principle, “if in doubt, create it yourself” which basically means I have to/get to write some code or build a tool.

This quote essentially sums up everything I just said, “In OSINT, the chief difficulty is in identifying relevant, reliable sources from the vast amount of publicly available information.” (source)

What is OSINT good for?

Absolutely everything!! Well ok nearly everything, but there are a lot of ways that OSINT can be used for fun or within your current job. Here are some examples;

  • Company Due Diligence
  • Recruitment
  • Threat Intelligence
  • Fraud & Theft
  • Marketing
  • Missing Persons

What are we going to cover??

At the moment I’ve got a few topics in mind to cover in this blog series, I am open to suggestions or ideas so if you have anything let me know and I will see what I can do. Here are the topics I’ve come up with so far (which is subject to change).

  • Image Searching
  • Social Media
  • Internet Infrastructure
  • Companies
  • Websites

Hopefully you found this blog post of use (or interesting), leave a comment if you want me to cover another subject or have any questions/queries/concerns/complaints.

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