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What is Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)?

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

Open source intelligence is a term originally coined by intelligence services. OSINT uses freely available, open sources such as print media, TV or the Internet to collect information and gain knowledge. In addition to government organizations, private sector companies also use various OSINT techniques and tools.

The abbreviation OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence. It is a term originally coined by intelligence service NATO. Open source intelligence uses information from open, freely available sources to obtain the desired knowledge. Sources for collecting information are, for example, mass media such as television, radio, print media or the Internet. The information gathered from these sources is analyzed, evaluated and linked to one another in order to gain knowledge.

Modern information and communication technology as well as the spread of the public Internet have contributed to a massive upgrade of OSINT. There is a great deal of information available on the Internet that can be collected and evaluated not only manually but also automatically. In addition to government organizations, private sector companies use various OSINT techniques and tools. Open source intelligence can be used for intelligence purposes, for example for business intelligence, cyber-attacks, industrial espionage or for political purposes.

Typical OSINT sources

It is characteristic of OSINT sources that the information is freely available and publicly accessible. The sources can be online or offline. Typical OSINT sources are:

  • Television and radio

  • Print media such as newspapers, magazines or books

  • academic publications

  • Photographs and videos

  • Maps

  • Forums, blogs, social media sites, wikis, websites, and other Internet sources

Possible uses of OSINT

Open source intelligence offers a wide range of possible uses and is not only used by government organizations such as intelligence services or police authorities. Private companies and other organizations also use OSINT for a variety of purposes. For example, Open Source Intelligence can be used for:

  • Business intelligence applications

  • Hacking

  • Social engineering

  • Penetration test

  • Security analysis

  • Industrial espionage

  • journalism

  • marketing

Benefits of Open Source Intelligence

Compared to other types of information gathering and intelligence gathering, Open Source Intelligence offers several advantages. Thanks to digitization and the large amount of information available on the public Internet, the costs of obtaining information are low. Many activities in this environment can be automated using tools. Compared to, for example, spies in a hostile country, the persons charged with obtaining information are exposed to a lower risk. Since the information is accessed via public infrastructures and technologies, the risk of discovering the information procurer is low.

Internet tools for open source intelligence

In the case of obtaining information via the public Internet, numerous supporting tools are available. There are both free tools such as search engines and commercial tools such as Maltego to collect and analyze the information. These tools are able to extract information from various digital formats such as audio and video files, text, images or program code. Typical functions of the OSINT tools are:

  • automatic information search and information linking in social media

  • automated query of web servers taking into account certain search terms

  • automatic search of metadata

  • automatic search in person directories

  • automated image search and analysis

  • automated search for geographic information

Top OSINT Tools for Beginners

The exponential growth of content creation following the democratization of digital assets has made intelligence gathering more complex. If you want to gain an edge in intelligence gathering for predictive or reactive purposes you need an OSINT tool. But you need to be cautious while looking for OSINT tools as information overload, particularly related to social media intelligence (SOCMINT) data, could be very challenging to manage in an era when speed is the key. Here are some of the best OSINT tools for beginners to help you gather, refine, and use the information for the desired purpose:

It is one of the most popular OSINT tools used by industries to gather and interlinked information available in the public sphere and present them graphically. Cybersecurity professionals are using this tool to identify malware and minimize brute attacks. With a credibility of over 12 years, it is one of the most recommended OSINT tools. You can buy a license as per your professional need and get training and tech support.

Time is the essence of modern decision-making, and the OSINT tools by Effect Group, an open source research platform will help you save time and resources that usually get wasted in gathering and re-allocating quality information required to research and strategic planning. Whatever is your data intelligence requirement for investigation purposes, the Effort Group project will help you convert raw data into actionable intelligence.

Running a company in the hyper-competitive digital era is an uphill task. You might have a robust system in place to manage internal operations perfectly, but what to do with external threats. theHarvester, an OSINT tool, helps in searching relevant company-specific intelligence and analyzing external threats. It takes you beyond Google and gathers quality data from 20 other mainstream search engines including Twitter.

If you are looking for digitally non-extent information related to the webpage, then the Wayback Machine OSINT tool is here to back you up. All you need to do is enter the name of the page and the tool will fetch you every piece of deleted data from the archive of the internet.

If your research requires finding company-related information then WHOIS will help you find all possible info related to domain registration. With information like server details, admin contact, registered mail, organization contact detail you can dig deeper to extend your research further.


Whatever is your profession or business, your success depends heavily on information sourcing, processing, filtering, and of course presentation. The need for information is unquestionable, but one finds it extremely challenging to engage high-quality human resources to manually gather and process information, as it used to be during the pre-internet era. The modern intelligence gathering isn’t about the availability of information, but the processing and presenting them in a usable format. The need of gathering information from publicly available sources without breaching privacy and security regulations gave birth to OSINT. Whatever is your requirement, be it for investigative journalism, cyber-security, law enforcement, or business intelligence, OSINT helps you look beyond simple Google search and dive deeper to gather, process, and present information for the defined purposes and make your intelligence gathering task much simpler and easier.

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