“What is OSINT?” you might be wondering. The expression “open source intelligence” refers to a method of collecting information from publicly accessible sources. (If you’re curious, “What is open source information?” this article would also have an answer.) But what distinguishes open source intelligence from other forms of data gathering is that it goes beyond querying search engines for various variations of the same word.
OSINT is a word that dates back to the 1980s and was coined by the US military. To maintain a tactical frontline edge, they needed to find a way to keep up with dynamic intelligence. OSINT data is now used by experts in a variety of fields to accomplish diverse tasks. Marketing and distribution departments, for example, use it to boost conversions, while cybersecurity teams use it to investigate and prevent attacks.
We’ll talk about what OSINT is now, as well as some of the more common OSINT methods and strategies, the OSINT architecture, and more. Before we go some further, let’s define open source intelligence and open source content.
What Is Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) & How Does It Relate to Open Source Information?
OSINT refers to a collection of methods, instruments, and strategies for passively gathering data from free or publicly accessible materials (not to be confused with open-source software). Historically, open source knowledge applied to information gathered by traditional media such as newspapers, radio, and television. We now use the following methods to collect precise intelligence:
- message boards,
- social media,
- the dark web (via TOR), and
- the deep web are all examples of online communities (pages not indexed by Google like a people search database).
In certain contexts, such as social media, OSINT has evolved into its own subset known as SOCMINT, which stands for “social media wisdom.”
The following are few examples of open source intelligence gathering:
- If you’re looking for details on a competitor’s staff or facilities, you’ve come to the right place.
- To combat crimes, law enforcement authorities collect intelligence through online public resources.
- Identifying bugs on a target device or network to hack later, and gathering intelligence to execute a social engineering attack.
Advantages of Using OSINT
There are some advantages of using open source intelligence. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
- If you’re on a tight budget, traditional data collection methods and software can not be a feasible option.
- One of the major advantages of using OSINT to collect information is that it requires very little capital commitment.
- Since the information received is not confidential and has been widely disseminated, it is lawful to access it.
- Users frequently exchange and change the details because it is based on public services.
- OSINT data may provide insight to company leaders and policy makers, allowing them to develop long-term plans for a range of business objectives.
- OSINT can also be a useful weapon in national security situations.
Disadvantages of OSINT
What are the disadvantages of using OSINT so that we know how useful it is? As you would expect, an enemy can use OSINT to obtain information about you or your company almost as easily as you can use it to gather intelligence. Aside from that, here are a couple other drawbacks you may encounter when using OSINT:
- Finding facts is useless until it can be put to use in a practical way. Depending on the amount of data you find, separating garbage data from useful information can be difficult.
- Once you’ve filtered out the data that’s useful, you’ll want to double-check that it’s accurate. Organizations and individuals can post false information on purpose to deceive potential attackers.
- The information gathered isn’t immediately consumable, and there’s a lot of research work to be done.
How OSINT Relates to Cybersecurity
OSINT approaches aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution in cybersecurity. The methods you use, as well as the instruments you use, can vary depending on the intent of your study, your end target, and what you’re looking for. You should select the right method and strategy after determining who your target is and the steps you’ll take to perform your analysis.
The fundamental concept behind collecting INT data is to:
- To create a deeper intelligence profile, connect the dots, pivot to a new source of information if required, and validate any assertion made along the way.
If you’re performing OSINT as part of a project, producing a summary with screenshots at the end is a must.
OSINT is commonly used to profile a target, and it is accomplished by performing passive reconnaissance to gather information without directly communicating with the person or company. However, collecting information is not without its difficulties. On Facebook, for example, an account made explicitly for OSINT might end up looking like a fake account. Any websites will erase accounts that don’t seem to be legal. Furthermore, the sheer amount of data that you must review and process in order to obtain valuable information can be daunting.
In the later stages of an attack, OSINT data is useful because it adds integrity if and when direct communication with the target is made. It enables almost everyone to create a tailored attack that targets flaws in humans, systems, or technology.
Using OSINT as Counterintelligence in Organizations
Counterintelligence applies to operations aimed at identifying and neutralising risks to an organization’s defence by the intelligence services of every adversary. When plotting an attack, a hacker’s first step is to collect as much information as possible. This will provide information about the target company, individual personnel, and all other relevant details. The next move is to analyse and correlate all of the data they’ve gathered from different outlets and transform it into intelligence.
Your company should take action to recognise all publicly disclosed records by using OSINT capabilities. This intelligence can be used to clean data to keep classified information from being disclosed, or to prepare the staff to be aware of it. It is invaluable to provide a dedicated team who detects correlatable data in order to shape intelligence. They will help you prevent reputational harm by detecting and, where possible, obscuring or censoring any publicly released confidential material. Furthermore, these insights can help you avoid or buy time to minimise the risk of a data breach as a result of the exposure.
What is the OSINT Framework?
Pentesters and hackers alike will use the OSINT framework’s set of OSINT resources, which are organised into different groups. The OSINT platform is mainly oriented on listing free tools and has a web-based gui.
For example, if we concentrate our OSINT analysis on finding usernames used by a target through several accounts on the internet, the first entry “username” can be investigated. When you press the entry, it will show you a list of all the resources that can be used to achieve this objective.
6 OSINT Tools That Can Enhance Your Cyber Security Efforts
Manually scouring the internet for information about your target organisation or person will take a long time. Fortunately, the current wave of “OSINT-ware” eliminates this barrier for both attackers and pentesters. These tools allow them to rapidly and easily evaluate the finer information of a target’s network with minimal effort.
DuckDuckGo, Google Maps, Pastebin, and social networking pages are all excellent places to launch. However, there are a few other resources that will help you collect information more quickly:
Shodan, which stands for Sentient Hyper Optimized Data Access Network, is the first OSINT tool we’ll talk about. This interconnected computer search engine lets you look for IoT/SCADA computers, routers, traffic cameras, and more.
Shodan tries to extract information from the ports it checks, such as the operation, programme, version number, and other details. Filters such as country, port, operating system, product, edition, hostnames, and others are used in the tool to help narrow down the performance. It provides connections to web interfaces of IoT users with weak or default keys, devices such as webcams in people’s homes, and other unsecured appliances.
Shodan can be used by pentesters to identify vulnerable network servers when doing security tests. The method is available in two versions: a free version with a restricted amount of scans, and a premium version with unlimited scans. Organizations may, however, insist that Shodan not crawl their network.
Maltego is an infrastructural reconnaissance aggregator with interfaces to many OSINT databases. This method can extract a wealth of confidential data from any target entity, including:
- Email addresses of employees,
- Confidential files that have carelessly been made publicly accessible,
- DNS records, and
- IP address information.
Maltego may also be used for personal reconnaissance to gather data on real individuals. Maltego works with search engines on the internet to compile all of this data in one place.
Metagoofil is another OSINT application that uses Google to retrieve metadata from publicly accessible files (.pdf,.doc,.xls,.ppt, etc.) belonging to any target business. It produces a report after copying the documents to the local disc and extracting the metadata using different libraries such as Hachoir, PdfMiner, and others.
Johnny Long, a hacker and cybersecurity expert, developed the Google Hacking Database (GHDB) in 2000 for pentesters. It’s a set of search terms that turn up fascinating material that was accidentally rendered available. A search engine crawling a web document that includes a connection that contains confidential data is an example of accidental disclosure. The search engine will then monitor it and index any information it contains.
You can ask GHDB for a variety of details, including verbose error messages containing confidential information such as:
- Paths to directories,
- Information about web servers; and files containing personal info, passwords, or usernames.
SpiderFoot is an opensource programme that automates the collection of information such as IP addresses, domain names, e-mail addresses, usernames, names, subnets, and so on. This tool lets you look at some unusual IP addresses, phishing scam email addresses, and HTTP headers (which can be parsed to reveal OS and software version numbers, etc.). It’s also helpful for organisations to keep track of any material that’s been accidentally made public.
Foca, a network infrastructure visualisation application, can retrieve and interpret metadata from a variety of file types (pdf, doc, etc.) fed one by one or all at once. It can also count members, e-mail addresses, applications installed, and other useful data.
Need Additional OSINT Tools and Resources? No need to go even more…
We’ve compiled a list of additional tools that may be useful in conducting OSINT analysis, including (but not limited to) the following:
- Plugins — Passive Recon is a Firefox plugin that searches through several public databases and look-up services. It collects information about a site invisibly when you’re on the website or one that links to it.
- Search engines — In addition to Shodan, attackers and pentesters frequently use Censys, ZoomEye, Greynoise, BinaryEdge, and other search engines.
- E-mail harvester — Tools such as the hunter, theHarvester, Prowl, and a few others can help you find email addresses for workers at a target company.
- DNS Enumeration — Tools such as DNS Dumpster, Sublister, and others can help you find legitimate subdomains.
Additional resources include haveibeenpwned, Recon-ng, CheckUserNames, Creepy, Nmap, etc.
Final Thoughts on Open Source Intelligence Gathering
When it comes to addressing the challenge, “what is OSINT?” there’s a lot to remember. As a result, I hope that this article clarifies open source content, open source knowledge, the OSINT system, and the different types of OSINT resources available to you.
While OSINT techniques can be used to cyberstalk or carry out other malicious acts, they can also be used for good, such as deception and misleading attacks to protect privacy. Anyone with or without OSINT information would be able to view any data that is made freely available in bits and pieces. It gives a person or a company the resources they need to determine what’s out there and, at the very least, obfuscate the storey.