End-to-end open source intelligence solutions that can automatically collect, analyze and structure information in a user-friendly way can help investigators get actionable insights from mountains of online data.
Today’s criminals are getting more sophisticated, leveraging advanced technologies like VPNs, proxy servers and encrypted messaging apps to hide their illicit activity from investigators. These innovations make it significantly harder for police to catch those who obfuscate their criminal acts. However, even the most tech-savvy criminals leave digital footprints, which are often traceable by investigators using open sources like social media and chat rooms.
As defined by the National Defense Authorization Act, open-source intelligence is “produced from publicly available information that is collected, exploited, and disseminated to an appropriate audience for the purpose of addressing a specific intelligence requirement.” OSINT data is derived from publicly available and unclassified information and is publicly available to anyone who knows where to find it.
The power of OSINT data in investigations has proved invaluable, which is why it is so important to criminal investigators, private sector financial and insurance analysts and news investigators alike.
Popular OSINT sources
OSINT data comes from a wide range of sources. The most popular sources include social media accounts, blogs, discussion groups, cell phone videos and even online publications and RSS feeds.
Public government databases also represent a rich source of OSINT data, including mortgage information, titles, real-property data, deeds, licenses and business records. Public government data can prove ownership of legal entities such as businesses and real estate. However, public data can be challenging to find, because each government agency stores and manages its data differently, which has traditionally required manual searches.
OSINT data can also come from professional and academic publications, as well as gray literature including technical reports, patents, working papers and newsletters. This data can help build a complete profile of an individual during the hiring process or before issuing loans, grants or funding.
With the opportunity to access large droves of actionable data, why have organizations shied away from OSINT investigations?
The time factor: The time it takes to manually access and sift through open-source data to find the needle in the haystack can be overwhelming. It can take several days or even weeks of manual searches to find the needed information.
Data overload: Many suspects or potential clients have so much information online – thousands of social media posts, pictures and videos, making it challenging to find actionable insights.
Old data: Investigators have to research open sources before, during and toward the end of each investigation to ensure they get real-time, relevant data, which requires time-intensive manual scrapes.
However, OSINT investigations need not be complicated or time-consuming. If the right solutions are employed by properly trained personnel, the benefits of obtaining actionable, usable, real-time data are huge.
The best solutions address the most common OSINT issues
Investigators and analysts need OSINT tools that allow them to find the information they need fast. Solutions that provide customizable options—and leverage open-source intelligence by automating the OSINT process of scraping data from social media, gray literature and even public dark web sources—will best address the needs of modern investigations.
OSINT algorithms can even do a better job of finding relevant open-source information than manual searches. Solutions must be modular and adaptive, with the ability to scan information sources even if those sources change their internal programming, to ensure investigators get the most recent, reliable open-source data without delay. The ability to analyze massive amounts of data quickly to identify fake accounts, traditionally a time-intensive process for investigators, can help refute suspects’ “it-wasn’t-me”-type claims with more ease.
Today’s criminal investigators and private sector analysts need to get actionable insights from mountains of online data and avoid technical difficulties in order to solve cases. It is crucial they seek out end-to-end OSINT solutions that can automatically collect, analyze and structure information in a user-friendly way. What once took days can now be accomplished in minutes when the right solutions are deployed.
Yossi Ofek is SVP and head of OSINT solutions at Cellebrite. He has more than 20 years of experience in various positions in the fields of security, intelligence, big data, and analytics.