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Open Source Intelligence in the Modern Age

The way we gather information and produce intelligence for evidence collection is changing. Open Source Intelligence is information that is publicly available and was traditionally gathered from recourses such as newspapers and leaflets. Whilst these are still part of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), the vast majority of information gathered is taken from the internet and social media.

There is a wide range of organisations/departments that would gain huge benefit from enhancing open source capability, for example, law enforcement, insurance, finance, fraud and marketing. In this article, we cover some of the key areas that Open Source Intelligence plays a role in and where increased knowledge could add significant value.

Criminal Investigations

Criminal activity is vastly growing online in order to hide identities. From fraud, counterfeit production, phishing scams, money laundering and even selling narcotics, there is a wide range of issues for investigatory personnel to deal with.

Open Source Intelligence can be crucial in these scenarios. Criminal actors are highly unlikely to use their personal details, which is where OSINT is used to gather intelligence from social media profiles. The criminal accounts and their associated network are followed and monitored until enough intelligence is obtained to identify information such as criminal evidence, criminal network, geolocation and account holder.

The social network of a criminal account is often the most useful resource for investigatory personnel. If accounts are public, investigators can find all the information they need within a matter of minutes. Open Source Intelligence can also be gathered from blogs, communication apps and the deep and dark web.

Minimising your Digital Footprint

Never make the mistake of thinking what you do online cannot be traced or utilised by cybercriminals. The trail you leave can be socially engineered in order to generate a spear phishing email that is likely to successful scam and breach you.

There are two categories of digital footprint:

  • Active digital footprint – created when you share information online by sending an email, publishing a blog, signing up for a newsletter or posting something on social media
  • Passive digital footprint – the data collected by search engines storing your search history, web servers logging your computer’s IP address when you visit a website, or smartphones tracking your geolocation data

Although digital footprints cannot be completely removed, there are ways to reduce the risk they pose. Intelligence personnel with effective open source knowledge will take advantage of these techniques, in order to keep your organisations digital footprint to an absolute minimum.

Due Diligence

Recruitment and HR personnel are often not thought of when it comes to Open Source Intelligence. In today’s digital age, it is highly likely that your social media profiles will be analysed prior to employment. They are also likely to be analysed again from time to time to check that you are not representing the company in bad light.

From discrimination, inappropriate behaviour or even criminal activity, there have been many individuals who have been vetted for recruitment or terminated from a job due to what they have been up to on social media.

It is important for human resource departments to have knowledge of Open Source Intelligence and understand the most up to date OSINT techniques.

Marketing and Advertising

It isn’t a coincidence that the shoes you were looking at online have now popped up on your Facebook timeline, or that your Instagram feed is showing you a holiday deal after you were scanning the travel agent websites. Tracking software is used to target marketing campaigns effectively and deliver them to the right audience. Social networking sites have become a key tool in the marketing and advertising world and Open Source Intelligence can add significant value, allowing you to get the best results from online marketing campaigns.

The Level 3 Certificate in Internet Research and Investigation is the UK’s first OFQUAL recognised qualification within this discipline and sets a nationally recognised standard for internet research and investigation. The qualification enables learners to both understand and apply processes to maximise the efficient and effective use of a range of freely available internet-based resources.

The qualification in internet research and investigation is suitable for anyone working within a research or investigative role, who primarily uses the internet and world-wide-web as their primary source of information. You can find out more about this course by visiting the Intelligencia Training website.

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