What is Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT)?

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

When you’re trying to gather information about someone for a specific purpose, such as for an investigation or a vendor risk assessment report, you want to be able to turn your information into actionable intelligence. You can gather hundreds of different pieces of information about someone for investigative research, but if none of it is relevant to what you’re trying to solve, it’s essentially useless. 

With the rise of the internet and social media, there’s more information than ever that is publicly available for people to view and use. However, that means you also need to be able to mine through that expansive data to find exactly what you need for your investigation. Sorting through this data to find the relevant pieces can be challenging and tedious, but just because it can be difficult, doesn’t mean it’s not beneficial or useful. In fact, being able to use public information for intelligence purposes is a great tool because of its affordability and accessibility, and it has become so popular among a variety of different industries that it even has its own name — Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT).

What is Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT)?

Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) is an intelligence technique that involves gathering and analyzing information from publicly available sources for a specific intelligence purpose. Data that is used for OSINT doesn’t have to be free  — it just has to be available for anyone to gather without breaking the law or needing a specific license or permit to access. OSINT is particularly beneficial to a variety of industries because it’s available to everyone and does not necessarily require expensive tools or permits. Using OSINT is typically a much smaller investment than other kinds of intelligence, and because of this, it can provide a greater return on investment for the industries that choose to use it. 

  • Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is the process of gathering data from publicly available sources and using that information for a specific purpose. 
  • OSINT is commonly gathered from the internet, social networks, and records databases, as well as media sources, business reports, academic sources, and GPS devices.
  • Although information that is used for OSINT isn’t necessarily free, it’s often easier to gather and can provide strong intelligence for a lower cost.

Who can use OSINT?

Many different industries can use OSINT for a variety of different purposes. OSINT can be used by OSNIT detectives as one of the best open-source forensic tools for forensic investigations, or as a tool to gain more information for a cold case investigation. Similarly, OSINT is used as one of the investigative tools by law enforcement to help solve criminal investigations and identify potential criminals who may pose a threat to communities. And because data for OSINT is publicly available, it’s a great technique to use in law enforcement with other data sharing tools and to help with community policing solutions.

Legal professionals can also use OSINT to perform social media due diligence and gather evidence for a case. Businesses, like corporations, financial services, and open-source debt collection companies, may use OSINT to identify threats for better security and safety, or to gain more general information about customers, debtors, or anyone else who may interact with their organization. Essentially anyone that needs information for a specific purpose can use OSINT with the right tools. 

  • OSINT is often used by private investigators and law enforcement to gather information about criminals, make connections between people, and solve investigations.
  • People working in law can also use OSINT to conduct due diligence, gather evidence, locate witnesses, and vet jurors.
  • Other industries that can benefit from OSINT are corporations, financial institutions, and collection agencies who want to learn more about consumers and increase their security.

What are open-source intelligence techniques?

There are a variety of techniques that can be used for gathering OSINT. One key technique is gathering OSINT help perform a personal background investigation and identify people who may pose a risk to the community. This kind of information can include criminal records, asset records, and other court records. OSINT can also reveal information like address history, utility listings data, and contact information that can be used as an expert witness locator to skip trace witnesses or other individuals.

A common OSINT technique is a social media search, which can reveal a lot about a person and may give you more insight into who that person is than that which you can glean from public records. For example, OSINT from social media may reveal a person’s locations, activities, interests, friends and associates, and behavior. You may even be able to find business websites an individual associated with online as well as message boards they frequently post on. Gathering OSINT from social media can be incredibly useful for building connections in investigations, as well for legal professionals seeking to vet jurors and perform due diligence on both their client and opposition.

Another OSINT technique is performing a people search to gather information for customer due diligence solutions and vendor risk assessment. This may include high-risk information, like criminal records and watchlist screening, or more general information, like addresses, debt records, and property records, that can be used for KYC protocol and customer verification solutions. OSINT can also reveal information about customers that can help businesses perform list generation and data augmentation and make more informed decisions about what prospects they want to target.

  • A common OSINT technique used to locate and build profiles on people is searching public records to find addresses, contact information, criminal history, and assets.
  • A social media search is another OSINT technique that can be useful for understanding more about an individual’s character, interests, and activities. 
  • Businesses that are looking to perform due diligence and risk assessment can perform a people search to gather information about all the people who interact with their business.

What are OSINT tools?

While OSINT is gathered from publicly available information, it isn’t alway easy to use OSINT because of the sheer amount of information available. Without the best OSINT tools, you may experience information overload or run into information that is outdated or inaccurate. To sort through information and find relevant information that can be turned into actionable intelligence, use a public records database like Tracers.

Tracers provides over 42 billion public records pulled from thousands of sources. Rather than scouring through a variety of different sources to find the information you need, you can quickly access all this data from any device, anywhere you want. You can use a social media finder by number and view all of the social media data in one easy-to-read report, or use the best criminal records search, asset search online, address history search, and look up utility bills by address

  • To start using OSINT in your business, you need access to streamlined and comprehensive OSINT tools.
  • One of the best OSINT tools available is a public records database like Tracers.
  • Tracers pulls billions of public records from thousands of sources into easy-to-read reports that can quickly be used for intelligence purposes. 

If you’re looking to craft a strong OSINT framework in your organization, get started with Tracers today.