A great answer below:
- What is OSINT?
- The Intelligence Cycle
- Mining for Gold
What Is Open Source Intelligence?
OSINT is a collection and analysis of open source intelligence tools. These open sources include all publicly available information found on online platforms, social media, websites, public records, news articles, etc. The term applies to anything that is publicly available. Everything from a google search to live radio feeds.
Open Data Sources:
- Google Maps
- Google Data Set Search
- U.S Census Bureau and many, many more.
Open source intelligence can be used to gather information from sources that are openly accessible to anyone, and it does not involve hacking, espionage or unauthorized access. This valuable tool can be used to gather information about a claimants activities and affiliations through publicly available data from social media or public property information websites.
The Intelligence Cycle:
OSINT is more than just a Google search. It’s a process to find and piece together valuable, specific information. It’s called the intelligence cycle:
- Planning: Figure out what you’re looking for so you don’t get lost in the myriad of information out there. Are you confirming fraud through analyzing the claimants social media accounts? Then you will need to research their tagged posts, locations and followers. If trying to uncover someone’s history then you might need to start looking at house records and a Facebook search.
- Collection and Data Gathering: This is a pretty straightforward stage of the process. During this time you are scouring public sources for information.
- Processing: Now its time to put it all together. Tie back information from an old Instagram post to your current case. Find the correlation and assess if you need to do more digging.
- Analysis: This is the fun part. True investigation takes place during this fourth step and its where you have to sift out valuable information. What’s missing? Where’s the red flag?
- Dissemination: Share your findings with your team and trusted advisors. Feedback helps you take a step back and have fresh mindset when approaching the case.
- Evaluation: A good player is always looking to improve. Same goes for a great investigator. This is also a good time to make note of any particular OSINT tools that will be helpful next time around.
Mining for Gold
When it comes to search engines, you have a plethora of options and Google just doesn’t cut it anymore. Especially when it comes to verifying a claim.
Let’s say you’re working on a property damage case for a a claimant in Massachusetts. However, something with the paperwork doesn’t feel right. The claimant reported a recent hail storm damaged their roof. You then realize you can search up recent snow/hail storms, so you hop online and begin a search for open source information. Minutes later you unveil the local news report suggests the storm mostly affected the Boston area, but your claimant lives in the suburbs. A simple Google search couldn’t have brought you this information but OSINT skills help you uncover hidden clues that go beyond local news articles. Whether you are looking to provide context to your case or unveil inconsistencies, OSINT is the way to go. The process is like following a trail of breadcrumbs until you get to a gold mine.
Instagram vs. Tik Tok vs. Facebook
Social media is used by 4.8 billion people worldwide and it is a treasure chest of information. Not all people are the same and not all people use the same social media. Our grandparents and parents are more likely to use Facebook, meanwhile Millennials are updating their Instagram story every hour. Same goes for the different uses of these platforms. Instagram accounts value privacy and a hurdle you might come to is a private Instagram account which friending would be considered unethical.
However, an Instagram user may have a personal Instagram account AND a separate blog-like profile exclusively dedicated to their favorite restaurants and food reviews. That second account is likely public and can provide you with valuable information. Tik Tok accounts tend to be public and more casual. People will post videos they wouldn’t post on Instagram and engage more with other users.
Pro Tip: Many social media platforms also allow you to sync your contacts which can make the process of finding someone that much quicker.
Public records and government databases are accessible to anyone that looks for them. You can scour through public records for business entities, tax records and building permits. A thorough search can lead to discovering inconsistencies or causality for your claims. Digging deeper is where you get real results.
MetaData is essentially data that describes other data. Confusing right? It gives you information about the author, dates of creation, dates of edits and can be highly valuable when it comes to images, files or video.
It can provide you where, when, by who and what platforms were used for an image. This can be valuable information during the discovery phase of OSINT if there is missing metadata to photos regarding one of your claims.
A claimant submitted a photo of their fender bender but the image seems old, and pixelated. You want to do further digging so you access the Metadata. Here you can find information about when the image was taken and if it is consistent with the claim. Metadata will also show you if an image has been tampered with. Let’s say your claimant decided to photoshop or modify an image, it will show you what third party app or program was used.
Note that you can also use the reverse image search capabilities of Google. You can input any photograph and it will show you if that photo appears anywhere else online – excluding the deep web.
Leverage the power of publicly available information to uncover hidden patterns, detect fraudulent claims and verify facts. There is more information on OSINT than can be included in one article but we’ve set you up with enough to give it a try. The tools and resources to find openly available information are out there. The knowledge we can provide you plus any new tools you uncover, will ultimately save your organization valuable resources and time.
Apply what you’ve learned here about search engines and social media platforms to your own intelligence cycle and open your eyes to the information waiting to be found.