Benefits and Risks of Open Source Intelligence Investigations

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is derived from publicly available data and utilized for police investigations. OSINT involves the gathering of publicly available data to assist in mission goals. The evidence collection is different in this case because it is on the public web versus evidence collected privately. The data is collected lawfully from public sources and sorted through to find viable information. OSINT includes a variety of tools and techniques that assist in the process of collecting and analyzing the data. Examples of OSINT channels include blogs, discussion boards, social media, and the dark web. As OSINT becomes a more commonly used tool, it is crucial to understand that there are benefits and disadvantages to using OSINT. To start, we see that OSINT is cost-effective. Compared to other tools used in an investigation, OSINT proves to be helpful for those on a budget. That being said, although it’s cost-effective, the information gathered is just as useful. OSINT has become a valuable tool because the information is most likely free to access and constantly updated. For example, people tend to post frequently regarding their daily activities on apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. There are little to no barriers to accessing this information; an example of a barrier could be a private profile or restricted viewing. OSINT tools can quickly gather the information that is beneficial in a time concerning the matter compared to intel that is gathered from sources or other means that could take months to procure.
Analysts are needed to determine what information is “good” by combing through data and confirming information.
While there are benefits, there are also disadvantages to using OSINT. One that sticks out is the need for “filtering out the noise.” Analysts are needed to determine what information is “good” by combing through data and confirming information. This could be time-consuming and also lead to the collection of misinformation. There is also the possibility of finding contradicting information. One source might say an attack is occurring on 15 September 2023, while another account says it will happen on 25 September 2023. Contradicting information could lead to missing something crucial or wasting time on false information. Some people might purposely post false information to throw off investigators or simply for “fun.” There is a risk that profiles will be private or restricted and OSINT investigators will be unable to access them. This could restrict information flow if a profile is private, leading to missing crucial information. OSINT is an evolving tool that has both its advantages and disadvantages. While there are downfalls of using OSINT, the benefits of finding information in a cost-efficient and timely manner outweighs the disadvantages. Social media and the web are constantly used and with OSINT we can find threats and information that are available publicly promptly. Combined with other tools, OSINT is crucial in finding and preventing threats.

Benefits of OSINT

  • Cost efficient
  • Open sources are always available and most likely free to access
  • Little to no barriers to access information
  • People tend to constantly update social media profiles. For example Facebook posts.
  • Speed at which information can be gathered.
  • Finding and preventing threats

Risks of OSINT

  • Filtering “Noise” (Need for analyst to analyze the data gathered) (Find what Data is “good”)
  • Collection of misinformation
  • Information contradiction
  • Risk of data being false is higher hence the need for analyzing
  • False information posted on purpose
  • Private Profiles
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