What is OSINT and why do you need it?

Professional investigators have a range of tools, skills and resources available to better equip them in their jobs; whether that’s locating someone, investigating fraud, surveillance or interviewing, digital forensics… the list goes on. Most investigators also heavily rely on the internet in many different ways. It’s an essential skill for any modern investigator.

Google, Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter, You Tube, Tic Tok, Instagram, WhatsApp, Pinterest. There are literally hundreds of open sources!

What many investigators don’t realise is that they probably only really know the intelligence capabilities of online platforms to a very small level (perhaps one percent). If you think you know how to Google search… think again!

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT for short) has been used traditionally by the intelligence community to supplement classified intelligence. People these days are sharing information, their lives, thoughts, locations, interests, opinions, views, associations (and everything else) on open sources. Open source data (OSD) is information discovered through publicly available means and determined to be of intelligence value.

You may be thinking of the traditional methods of Skip Tracing. And, you’d be right! But OSINT is so much more and utilizes a wealth of tools and skills to dig deeper, find more detailed information on a subject (person, location or organisation) to assist you as an investigator. OSINT involves complex analysis of things like:

  • Social network analysis (SOMINT)
  • Imagery intelligence (IMINT)
  • Geospacial intelligence (GEOINT)
  • Google hacking

A huge proportion of the internet (over 99 percent, according to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt) cannot be found using the major search engines. This so-called “deep web” is a mass of websites, databases, files, and more that cannot be indexed by search engines like Google. Much of the content of the deep web can be considered open source because it’s readily available to the public.

Open Source Intelligence

So what are the ‘tools of the trade?’

OSINT tools are typically search engines like Google, except most of us don’t know about them. There are a series of advanced search functions called “Google dork” queries that can be used to identify the information and assets they expose. Dork queries are used by IT geeks and hackers every day; there are literally hundreds of them. Many tools exist outside of Google and are freely available. Things like:

  • Metadata search
  • Code search
  • People and identity investigation
  • Phone number research
  • Email search and verification
  • Linking social media accounts
  • Image analysis
  • Geospatial research and mapping
  • Wireless network detection and packet analysis

Being able to find the location of a particular non-identifying photograph online (IMINT) can greatly assist an investigator. And that’s just one of the skills OSINT teaches.

The Professional Investigators College of Australasia (PICA) has recently teamed up with Australia’s leading OSINT specialist, Brad LYONS (OSINTzone) to deliver specialist OSINT training and development for investigators.

PICA’s director, Paul Harmer, says that this new collaboration will equip students with the tools to greatly improve the quality of their investigations.

“PICA’s Skip Tracing workshop, through to OSINTzone’s extensive training program, students will be well equipped to make the best use of both open-source and paid databases to improve their investigations,” he said. “This is a skill-set that is becoming a must for the modern professional investigator.”

PICA’s Skip Tracing Fundamentals course introduces investigators to the basic concepts or locating people, locations and information using the internet and paid databases. It’s a great place to learn the basics of skip tracing and the tools that are used.

Skip Tracing Course

OSINTzone’s Cyber Investigations Course explores the field in detail and provides investigators with the tools and skills they need to effectively find and analyse online data.

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