What is Open Source Intelligence or OSINT?
Updated: Mar 30
Open Source Intelligence, also referred to as OSINT, is a term described within the cyber security, private investigative, and the law enforcement community as methods used to search online within the publicly available information on the web to meet an investigative goal or objective. Its definition is different for each specific organization that use OSINT. The FBI may apply Open Source Intelligence and the analyzed data from it in an entirely different way than would a private investigator or an attorney. Police officers deploy OSINT techniques to break up drug smuggling or human trafficking. A principal private investigator uses advanced search techniques and social networks to locate witnesses. He or she may also monitor suspicious classified ads on Facebook Marketplace looking for his or her client’s stolen property. A private person may practice OSINT techniques to locate a missing family member or hire a professional to do it for them. Private Investigators and Certified Fraud Examiners most often use OSINT to seek evidence in a legal proceeding against those suspected of insurance or financial fraud. Executive Protection specialists use OSINT to analyze suspects and protect the principal client(s). Conversely, collected, analyzed and verified forensic internet evidence can also be used to clear an innocent client in court.
Open Source Intelligence techniques are constantly changing because the internet evolves every day. Investigators can search a target’s Facebook timeline one day, and the next, that intelligence is gone or moved within in the application. Evidence or meta data must be collected quickly, verified and documented properly if it will be used in court. The internet, social media and its applications are constantly adapting. Investigators performing OSINT for case research and intelligence must re-train regularly to stay apprised of the current methods and the countless tools at their disposal. The apparatuses for searching are endless. Conclusively, it is an interesting field that challenges investigative analysts utilizing OSINT to be regular and vigilant.
Victoria Balzarini is a principal investigative agency owner in the Greater Seattle, WA area. She offers Open Source Intelligence to corporations, attorneys and private clients. Contact her at email@example.com.