I saw a post today on social media. I won’t disclose it’s origins. The company concerned has been training OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) for years. But has now chosen to rebrand course offerings because the UK police service have apparently recognised the term OSINT to be no longer appropriate. Now I am by no means calling that persons qualifications into question but OSINT has been used as a means of ‘sexing up‘, ‘mysticising‘ and creating a ‘dark art‘ by many trainers for long enough. The genie is now well and truly out of the bottle.
OSINT is not a course, neither is it a skill, it is a process. As someone with an extensive background in intelligence and investigations I have never liked using the term which inadequately describes obtaining ‘information’ from the Internet. What you find online is information, and cannot possibly be classified as intelligence until it has been evaluated and analysed properly.
The Intelligence cycle is a pertinent and useful method of describing what I mean and something I use during my courses (which incidentally I call ‘Internet Investigative Skills’). A quick search of Google for the intelligence cycle will give you any number of variants of this butI have a download here.
Briefly the cycle can be described as follows;
Planning and Direction – Fundamental to any enquiry. Failing to plan is planning to fail. The image above depicts a map and that is a helpful analogy. Decide where you want to go and how you are going to get there. Are you also thinking about the right types of procedure and legislation and what’s your online profile?
Collection – If you blindly approach your searches in a haphazard fashion you are going to waste time, lack focus and probably lose interest quite quickly. Be methodical, logical but also think outside of the box.
Evaluation – Be prepared to question what you find, ‘question the answers’ is a slide I use regularly when talking about credibility and validation on my courses. Doing this will help you avoid ‘fake news’, misinformation and arriving at the wrong conclusion(s).
Collation – Organise yourself and decide how you are going to prepare your audit trails. It is absolutely vital that the data you find is held securely and any transfers you undertake are also protected. An intelligence profile of a subject will most likely be applicable for anyone in the EU fall under the GDPR legislation.
Analysis – This is where you can start to think about Intelligence. Developing your product into the Who, What, Where, Why, When and How.
Dissemination – You can be the best investigator in the world but unless you can disseminate your product in a way that it can be understood then all your work is wasted. Not got everything you want? Get back on the cycle and keep going, it really does work.
If you are attending or have attended a course where OSINT is the title and the differences between, investigations, information, intelligence and analysis are not discussed and explained properly there is an absence of a fundamental aspect of this fascinating area of work. Internet Investigations are much more than getting results from search engines.
For me #OSINT really is nothing more than a hashtag. If should be confined to the history books.