Utility of Open Source Intelligence in modern era

Our virtual landscape has significantly changed in the past decade. With this evolution, new threats and attack vectors have also started to surface. The intelligence community relies on various methods and techniques to identify such threats and prevent them pro-actively.

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) has always been a great way to collect intel though many if not most, still don’t pay much attention to it. With the significant improvement in technology in the recent past and availability of multiple social platforms, this negligence is slowly changing. Today finding basic information about someone is just a few clicks away. We knowingly share our information without paying much attention to what can be done with it. Sometimes we are not even aware about the information we are sharing (e.g. Metadata). This information which is openly available can be useful in generating actionable intelligence. Utilizing Open Source Intelligence we can understand the landscape, identify threats, predict events and also understand how exposed we ourselves are. A simple example is New Zealand’s well known jihadists, Mark Taylor (@M_Taylor_Kiwi) revealing his twitter geo-location because of the geotag tracking feature of Twitter (source:https://ibrabo.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/new-zealand-jihadist-deletes-tweets-after-discovering-he-left-geotagging-on/).

There are many resources available which can used to gather raw information for processing such as:

  • Social Media
  • News websites
  • Public Forums
  • Intelligence Feeds
  • Blogs

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Collecting raw data is one thing and generating intelligence out of it is another. The collected data needs to be processed and analysed to become useful or it’s just a bunch of bytes. Identifying key elements, connecting the dots between them and putting it all into context is important. Though most part of data collection can be automated (through crawlers and parsers) but when it comes to analysis, a hybrid approach is a must. Machines can collect and implement algorithms on huge chunks of data but human intelligence is a must when it comes to making it relevant and useful as per current scenario.

Collecting information from public sources is difficult as there are so many of them and with no standard format, yet it provides a frontier with immense future opportunities. Some organizations such as Recorded Future, Cytegic, Palantir etc. have identified this opportunity and already utilizing it. This could revolutionize domains such as competitive intelligence, security assessment and especially threat monitoring. Governments as well as private organizations need to grab this opportunity and utilize open information for a better tomorrow.