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OSINT Basics – What is Open Source Intelligence

This article is not meant to be a step-by-step guide on open-source intelligence. It is basically a primer to get you introduced and interested in the subject. We are going to discuss the definition of OSINT and why you would use it. Let's take a look.

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What is open-source intelligence, or OSINT?

OSINT is information gathered, or collected, from easily accessible public sources. Simple, isn’t it?

Traditionally used to gather intelligence for law enforcement and government purposes, OSINT can be used for gathering “alternative” news locally and abroad. By alternative, I mean from sources outside of major media outlets.

The mainstream media, regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, often has a bias one way or another. Outside of this bias, news feeds are often clogged with irrelevant headlines bearing little information and serving no purpose other than to create division. Every once in awhile relevant news slips in, but it’s not the norm.

news reporters

Is there a perfect source of information? No. Outside of gathering it first-hand, you are counting on the perception, interpretation, and articulation of facts, from another person. But, there are a few ways to counter this and put together a more complete picture of what is going on.

So, for the purpose of this article, we are going to be discussing the curation of information related to particular locations or places. We will not be discussing using OSINT to track down personal information on folks. Maybe we will discuss that another time.

It should be noted, I do not claim to be an expert in this field. I’m just sharing my experience and how I go about what I do. I first started dabbling in OSINT when I became a federal agent in 2005. It was primarily used to curate personal information on suspects, accomplices, locations, etc., in an effort to support cases. I sucked at it when I started. It took time and others, to help me build those skills.

As the years progressed I became better at various techniques. The natural progression of things, right? Along the way, I also started using it for “digital” advance work and for planning trips at home and abroad. Depending on how remote, or rural, certain areas were, I sometimes had a difficult time finding current information about what was going on. Some places it’s still the case.

Why gather OSINT?

Open-source materials are a way you can get information about a specific area or event. You still have to vet this information, but it can be helpful when you need to:

  • Gather information about an area you are traveling for work or for personal reasons.
  • Verify the information you are hearing from other sources.
  • Get information when reliable (traditional) sources are few and far between.

Sources of OSINT

A few of the sources may include:

  • Traditional media sources
    • TV
    • Radio
    • Newspapers
    • Magazines
  • Government sources
    • Sites such as the State Department, etc.
  • Internet
    • Blogs
    • Forums
    • Social Media

Traditional sources such as TV, radio, newspapers, etc., can often suffer from the bias we mentioned above. They are also very selective in what and how they report on certain issues. Timeliness can also be an issue with these outlets.

social media sources

I find social media platforms to be a great place to curate timely information. Often, “citizen journalists” will live stream events as they are unfolding allowing the public to have access to this information as it’s happening. This allows the end-user (us) to decipher the information however we see fit. We can then make our own determinations.

As you become more familiar with a particular resource, you can add it to the “trusted” list and not worry about vetting it each and every time. However, we have to use caution because there are plenty of folks out there who get their kicks out of misinformation. Photoshopped images, bogus accounts, spoofed videos, and more, all contribute to legitimate skepticism.

In our next article on OSINT, we will discuss the ways we can verify the sources and the information we get from social media. With a little effort, you can increase your confidence in the reliability of what you are reading or seeing. I hope you will join us for part 2.

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