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What is OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence?)

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Have you ever heard about Open-Source Intelligence? Well, if you want to know about this then you must have to read this article…The first thing you do in a targeted attack, like a security test or simulation, is to gather information about the target. This usually begins by collecting data from public sources, known as open-source intelligence or OSINT. 

You know what? With the abundance of information on social media and online activities, legally collecting OSINT has become a valuable resource. It can provide attackers with everything they need to create a detailed profile of an organization or individual. 

So, In this article, we’ll explain what OSINT is and more about it…

Open-Source Intelligence Overview

Open source intelligence (OSINT) is a method of gathering information from the public or open source. This method is used by security professionals, intelligence agencies and sometimes by cybercriminals. When used defensively, the goal is to obtain publicly available information about an organization that can be exploited by potential attackers. The goal is then to take steps to prevent these possible future attacks.

OSINT relies on advanced technology to detect and analyze large amounts of data. This data is collected through scans of the public web, extraction of information from public sources such as social media, and in-depth web searches—things that have not been indexed by search engines but are still accessible to the public

OSINT tools can be open source or proprietary. It’s important to understand the difference between open source code and open source materials. Even if a tool itself is not open source, classifying it as an OSINT tool allows for open access to resources, called open source intelligence. You know what? Before  using any open source projects which are available at Github, Open Source Collection, or any other platform, understanding Open-Source Intelligence is quite important.

Open-Source Intelligence History

Thе concеpt of Opеn Sourcе Intеlligеncе (OSINT) originatеd in thе military and intеlligеncе community. Initially, it rеfеrrеd to intelligence activities that focused on gathеring stratеgically important, publicly available information related to national sеcurity issuеs.

During thе Cold War, thе main mеthods of еspionagе wеrе obtaining information through human sourcеs (HUMINT) or еlеctronic signals (SIGINT). In thе 1980s, OSINT gainеd significancе as an additional approach to intеlligеncе gathеring.

Thе risе of thе Intеrnеt, social mеdia, and digital services has expanded thе scopе of opеn sourcе intеlligеncе. It now provides accеss to a wеalth of resources for gathеring information about various aspеcts of an organization’s IT infrastructurе and its еmployееs. Sеcurity organizations rеcognizе thе importance of collecting this publicly availablе information to stay ahеad of potеntial attackеrs.

For Chiеf Information Sеcurity Officеrs (CISOs), the primary objective is to idеntify information that could posе a risk to thе organization. This proactive approach allows CISOs to mitigatе risks bеforе attackers еxploit potential threats. OSINT is oftеn usеd in conjunction with rеgular pеnеtration tеsting, whеrе thе information uncovered through OSINT is utilized to simulatе a brеach of organizational systеms. 

Intelligence cycles of OSINT 

Let’s talk about intelligence cycles and what they mean for people working in OSINT. There are many components to the intelligence cycle, which help to understand how OSINT analysis is conducted.

Stages of the Intelligence Cycle:

Preparation: This is when you know what to look for. You set goals for your business and identify the best sources for the information you are looking for.

Collection: The key is to gather data and information from as many relevant sources as possible.

Operations: This is when you organize or compile the data and summary.

Analysis and action: You look at the data and try to make sense of it. This may mean finding patterns or creating a timeline of events. Then, you create a report that answers questions and makes recommendations based on your findings.

Distribution: This is the part where you share your findings. It could be written reports, timelines, recommendations, etc. Basically, you are answering questions and providing information to the people who need it.

How to use Open-Source Intelligence

OSINT or Open Source Intelligence is used by different groups for different purposes. Here are three common ones:

How ​​Security Teams Use OSINT:

Security teams and analysts use OSINT to find public information about a company’s internal assets. This includes accidental disclosure of metadata that may contain sensitive information. OSINT can reveal open ports, unpatched software vulnerabilities, and publicly available IT information such as device names and IP addresses. Social media and external websites often provide valuable information, especially employee profiles and information shared by vendors and partners.

How ​​Threat Actors Use OSINT:

Attackers use OSINT to gather personal and employee information from social media. This information is then used for targeted attacks, such as spear phishing campaigns, which target individuals with access to company products and use social networking sites, particularly LinkedIn, as job titles and organizational structure source. Attackers also use cloud resources to probe public networks for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations. Certificates and other exposure information can be retrieved from sites like GitHub, where developers sometimes inadvertently share sensitive data in their code.

Other uses of OSINT:

In addition to cybersecurity, organizations or governments use OSINT to monitor and influence public opinion. It finds applications in marketing, political campaigns, and disaster management. Specifically, OSINT helps gather information from publicly available sources for purposes beyond cybersecurity alone.

Best practices for Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)

Here are some best practices for Open Source Intelligence (OSINT):

  1. Develop a Clear OSINT Strategy: Organizations should create a well-defined OSINT strategy that outlines goals, priorities, and the specific sources, techniques, and tools to be used.
  2. Follow Legal and Ethical Guidelines: Ensure that OSINT efforts comply with relevant legal and ethical guidelines, including privacy laws and regulations.
  3. Use a Variety of Sources and Techniques: Employ diverse sources and techniques for OSINT, such as social media, news articles, public records, government reports, and advanced analytical methods like natural language processing and machine learning.
  4. Ensure Quality and Reliability: Take steps to ensure the quality and reliability of OSINT by verifying the accuracy and credibility of sources. Regularly assess OSINT processes and practices.
  5. Protect confidentiality and integrity: Implement measures to protect the confidentiality and integrity of OSINT, including data encryption, secure access to systems and networks, and persistent data retention

By adhering to these best practices, organizations can enhance their ability to collect, analyze, and disseminate OSINT efficiently and effectively, while remaining compliant with legal and ethical standards

Top OSINT Tools

Here are some tools you can use for security research with Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT):

1. Maltego:

  • What it does: Helps with open-source intelligence and forensic analysis.
  • How it helps: Lets you collect, see, and analyze information from different places like social media, the deep web, and online sources.

2. FOCA:

  • What it does: Analyzes metadata to find hidden details in documents and files.
  • How it helps: Reveals hidden information like IP addresses, email addresses, and other important data.

3. Shodan:

  • What it does: Scans the internet to find connected devices and networks.
  • How it helps: Helps identify problems and possible security issues by showing information about connected devices.

4. TheHarvester:

  • What it does: Gathers email addresses, subdomains, and more from various online sources.
  • How it helps: Collects information from search engines, social media, and the deep web.

5. Recon-ng:

  • What it does: Helps with web reconnaissance to gather information from online sources.
  • How it helps: Collects data from social media, DNS records, and the deep web to aid in security research.

These are just a few examples of OSINT tools for security research. There are many other tools out there, and the best one depends on what you need and what you’re trying to achieve.

Artificial Intelligence: Is it the Future of OSINT?

The technology for Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is getting better, and some suggest using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) to make OSINT research easier.

Reports say that government and intelligence agencies are already using AI to collect and analyze information from social media. In the military, AI/ML is helping identify and fight terrorism, cybercrime, fake news, and other security issues on social media.

As these AI/ML techniques become available to regular businesses, they can be useful for:

  1. Improving Data Collection: Making it easier to sift through information and prioritize what’s important.
  2. Enhancing Data Analysis: Connecting relevant details and finding useful patterns.
  3. Providing Useful Insights: AI/ML can go through a lot of data quickly, giving more actionable insights than humans can find on their own.

Wrapping Up

In this post, we discussed the basic concept of OSINT and why it is helpful. We’ve shared some great OSINT tools to gather information. We’ve given you an insight into a few specific tools and how to use them.

Knowing how to compile open reports is really important for people in the cybersecurity industry. Whether you’re securing a company’s network or looking at its vulnerabilities, the more you know about its digital presence, the better you can understand it from an attacker’s perspective. With that understanding you can then plan better to protect you from potential threats.