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Tips and Trends in Open-Source Intelligence

Historically, Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) has been defined in terms of leveraging publicly accessible data from television, radio, newspapers, commercial databases, internet, media, and others. With the rise of internet and social media use, online resources can today be categorized as an important OSINT subset. Data collected on the internet using OSINT is usually free. Therefore, it is essential to identify reliable sources you can trust. OSINT can be used for many purposes including company due diligence, recruitment, policing, threat intelligence as well as marketing. With a good understanding of OSINT tools and market trends you can fully utilize the intelligence value of OSINT.

OSINT tools and methods


Most tools use lexical analysis, network analysis, geospatial analysis, or a combination of these methods

to isolate, describe, and analyze data.

  • Rand Corporation


Two of the more frequently used OSINT methods are lexical analysis and sentiment analysis. Using Lexical analysis, it is possible to identify the most frequently searched terms on search engines for a given day or show which keywords are most common within a time frame. Lexical analysis can be further used to interpret information about social media engagement such as age, social class, economic background, and education level.[1]

Sentiment analysis attempts to infer a person's opinion or sentiment based on his or her online behavior. Terms a person uses on the web are categorized as negative, neutral or positive and then the person is given a score. [2] Political parties can aggregate data using sentiment analysis and use it to determine the overall opinion online on a controversial subject. They can then strategize on how to approach or not approach an issue. Marketing companies also employ sentiment analysis to find out what audiences thinks about their brand. For example, a company that monitors social media reactions to their ad campaign can make changes in real time based on positive or negative responses.

OSINT tools can be utilized for investigative journalism as well. To illustrate, if you come across a website that is presenting hateful or radical information, you could use Maltego to investigate whether the website is backed by legitimate sources or news organizations. You could derive information from the domain and uncover which other domain names are using that IP address or explore different domains names to which the domain is linked it.

OSINT for Security and defense

The recent giant leaps in computing and algorithms have brought some of the OSINT practices to shift towards the public sector, government and security agencies. Security and defense organizations are always looking for ways to go on the offensive. Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) is fast becoming the technology of choice to help push this trend. This makes you wonder: are we headed towards a future resembling Minority Report, where the police can predict a criminal’s behavior before he or she commits and unlawful act? Mining crime statistics for criminal patterns is now integrated into police stations around the globe in what is known as predictive policing.[3] Digital investigative policing units use various models to try to automate online profiling. Police department across the US use different forms of computer-forecasts to map out crime hot-spots and prioritize certain areas over others. For example, the LAPD has a program that can analyze rap sheets, parole reports and other sources to identify people likely to commit crimes or create a list of recruiting offenders and their networks.[4]

Social Media Monitoring and OSINT

Companies use social media monitoring to effectively oversee what people say about their brands and manage perception. With OSINT tools, brands can quickly identify negative comments across social media platforms and mitigate them. Startups can use these same tools as part of introducing an iteration to their product and gaining valuable feedback. Security and defense agencies employ social media OSINT to access unfiltered information on what people are really saying about a given topic and manage threats in the process.

Aggregating and analyzing social media data is relatively easier if it is text based. However, it becomes more challenging with video, audio, graphics and images because content in these formats may need to be transformed into usable intelligence. There are other challenges involved in social media such as authentication, which includes being able to correctly identify the user’s identity. This can be even more difficult with the widespread use of reposts, retweets and bots.

OSINT tools are changing rapidly and it is essential to keep up to date as well as not overly rely on one source. This last point can prove to be particularly painful as in the case of Topsy, a free platform that indexed published Twitter tweets since 2007 which was abruptly discontinued after 8 years following its purchase.[5]

[1] Defining Second Generation Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) for the Defense Enterprise/Rand Corporation

[2] AN OPINION MINING APPLICATION ON OSINT FOR THE REPUTATION ANALYSIS OF PUBLIC ADMINISTRATIONS/Santarcangelo, Vito & Oddo, Giuseppe & Pilato, Maria & Valenti, Fabrizio & Fornaro, Claudio. (2015).

[3] 5 Tools the Police Are Using in Their War Against Activists/The Nation

[4] Palantir Knows Everything About You/Bloomberg Businessweek/

[5] Defining Second Generation Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) for the Defense Enterprise/ Rand Corporation