Open-Source Investigation (OSINT) is becoming more and more in demand in a modern world that produces gigabytes of data per second. Information has become a weapon and protection at the same time. If you have opened this article, you probably want to know more about how to use it. Let's take a look.
An OSINT investigation can be a complex and lengthy job that can take weeks. So, we will not discuss each element in detail, as you'd better read separate articles about them. Still, we will explain what OSINT investigation is in general and what types of it are usually used.
What is OSINT?
Despite the slight veil of espionage, OSINT is a fairly straightforward concept that means collecting data from open sources. That is, all information that you can get from public sites, user pages, and databases is the target of OSINT. So, OSINT can be called intelligence investigation as specialist looking for little known information. However, this activity is legal as long as the investigators do not overstep the boundaries and respect the right to data protection; for example, they do not try to hack a social network page.
OSINT is used by recruiters, journalists, lawyers, private detectives, corporate security agencies, financial institutions, banks, governments, and even marketers. You can also use OSINT for personal purposes, although without investigative experience, this can be difficult. Still, read the purposes of using OSINT considered below to understand where to start.
Purposes of OSINT Investigations
A person investigation
We often want to know more about a person to trust them or expose their deceit. For example, you should check a person's dating profile before traveling to another country or sending personal details, as they may be a scammer or just married. You may also suspect your partner of being unfaithful, and an investigation may expose them if they cheat.
In some cases, companies examine a person's background to check their reliability and professional qualities for hiring. Or journalists and private investigators often use OSINT to expose a person's criminal activities. In any case, checking open data is a good move.
A company investigation
You may need to study companies the same way you examine people. For example, if you want to cooperate with a company, you need to know its financial condition and activities to be sure. Or you can study your competitors to see their strengths, weaknesses, and audience characteristics to use them to your advantage.
As a separate goal, we can name investigations to detect corporate fraud, whether it is tax evasion, illegal activities, or lying to customers. So, open data can reveal a lot about a company's activities, including what it is trying to hide.
Although this name of the concept may not be officially used, it is obvious that applying OSINT to police investigations provides multiple benefits in the modern world. You cannot put OSINT vs. investigations because the first one is usually the part of the second and often mean the same. Sometimes open source searches can give the police much more information than governmental databases, especially if the suspect has no previous history of crime. So, people with OSINT investigation abilities are valuable employees for police service.
Companies can also collect data about their users or potential audience to use it for marketing purposes. For example, they can read young parents' comments on Facebook complaining about uncomfortable or too heavy strollers and develop a lighter model to sell.
Cyber security threat prevention
Specialists can also look for public information to prevent security threats. For example, hackers may use employees' emails for phishing attacks, and leaked databases on the dark web can indicate security breaches in a company. So, specialists must constantly monitor the network to extract information that hackers can use and strengthen protection in weak places in time.
Types of investigations
To achieve all these goals, specialists use different types of OSINT investigations in combination or separately. Let's look at the main of them.
Background check. This type of investigation is quite extensive as it can include all the other types described below. However, if we consider background investigation vs. OSINT investigation, we can find quite a few differences. First of all, complete OSINT investigations cover all possible resources that can provide valuable information about a person, including their relatives, friends, and interests.
A background check is just a part of an OSINT investigation, although it is also quite extensive. Its main difference from the types described below is that experts focus on examining news and articles, checking a person's background, especially a famous one,
For example, in some local newspapers, there may be an old article about the crime of a teenager who is now a famous businessman. Such information is useful for journalists or recruiters.
Social media investigation. People love to share information, and we can use it for our own benefit. So, by checking social networks, we can identify the person's age, location, and interests, as well as find out who are friends, lovers, and family.
We can also see how people's views have changed over time or catch them in a lie by reading their old posts. There are many ways to use data from social networks, especially if a person carelessly shares information about themselves, and OSINT specialists do this.
Email and phone number check. Email and phone numbers are needed to register and use almost all services. So, if you find this data, you can find much more information. For example, find various databases, including those related to finance, bitcoins, or documents.
Email also helps to find social networks, dating, or gaming profiles. By phone number, you can understand where a person lives or works in some cases. Therefore, checking the email and phone numbers is one of the most important OSINT investigation types and stages of providing OSINT investigation services.
Videos and photos check. Photos and videos can store as much helpful information as text and even more. By carefully examining an image or video, you can see clues about the place and time it was taken, notice other people, or detect photoshop. In addition, a reverse image search can show when a photo was first posted and where and whether it was edited to reveal fakes.
Dark web search. Dark web investigation is another type that OSINT professionals often use. They delve into the dark web to find leaked company databases or information about individual users and detect illegal activity or security threats.
What the specialist will do with this information depends on the goals, such as closing the security of the breaches or, on the contrary, using them to harm. Still, this type of investigation is extremely useful, especially for finding suspicious activity.
The OSINT market offers hundreds of tools for every type of investigation, so it's hard to list them all. Some of them are paid, others are free; some have only one function, others give dozens of options; some require IT knowledge, and others are available to ordinary users. Moreover, they have different purposes from finding and checking data to writing OSINT investigation reports,
To understand all this, you need to read separate articles for each type of investigation and try different tools in practice. We recommend you use the OSINT Framework to get started. It contains about a hundred tools and services divided by purpose and features (as you can see in the picture below). So, it will be pretty easy for you to figure it out. Good luck!
OSINT investigation is a complex and multi-level process, which is not so easy to carry out without the appropriate experience. You can try some of the types and tools if you have specific goals and get success. Or you will get confused in volumes of information and turn to specialists. Either way, OSINT is an interesting area to learn. If you want to get serious about it, you need to dedicate a few weeks to reading several OSINT investigation books and trying some tools to get the basics. Still, you need months of learning and practicing to become professional.
📌 For everyone who really wants to learn OSINT, we recommend OSINT training courses from Molfar:
▪️ Basic: for personal study and receiving a knowledge base + all the necessary tools for work.
▪️ Advanced: for scaling processes, gathering a team and learning HUMINT.