By Kim Miller, Ph.D., CFE
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
Open source intelligence (OSINT) is information that comes from publicly available sources. This type of information can be exploited, collected and disseminated to any audience.
For investigators or other individuals who need to collect background material on an individual, OSINT is highly useful. According to Michael Bazzell, a former FBI computer crime investigator and the author of several books on security, OSINT can be used to locate people or to conduct background checks or any online investigation.
Many Names and Addresses Publicly Available Online
Websites such as Spoke.com, Radaris.com, and Intelius.com allow users to search an individual’s name and address for free. These sites allow investigators to more easily use the information found on these sites to conduct background checks on potential employees, but are also used by criminals to find information for identity theft.
Use of OSINT to Track Down Criminals
Although OSINT has its hazards in regard to personal privacy, it can also have crime-fighting implications. For example, some Reddit users have asked others to help them solve theft problems. Victims sought help identifying phone numbers, license plate numbers or other information that could be used to track down thieves.
Finding Thieves on Twitter
The free version of Followerwonk.com may be used to gain information on Twitter users. You can enter three Twitter profiles and compare whom they follow or their followers.
By analyzing the followers of a particular Twitter profile, it is possible to identify criminals more easily. Thieves are often located based on their friendships.
Similarly, Twitonomy.com creates the opportunity to obtain detailed information about a user’s tweets, retweets, replies to tweets, Twitter mentions and use of hashtags. Tweets from favorite users, lists and keyword searches may also be monitored.
However, you must have a Twitter profile to log into Twitonomy. Once you log in to Twitonomy, it is easy to see when a Twitter user tweets, what platform they use and the people they tweet. Twitonomy also permits you to organize your search results and gain intelligence on your followers and the people you follow.
The Future of OSINT
OSINT has many benefits; the data generated from it can provide more security and peace of mind for government agencies and business employers. OSINT also helps users detect potential threats more easily.
As the amount of publicly available data increases, there will be an increased demand for analysts and investigators. In the future, more people will be needed to sift through large amounts of intelligence data and provide actionable insights for employers’ decision making.
About the Author
Dr. Kim Miller is an adjunct professor of criminal justice in the School of Security and Global Studies at AMU. Her academic credentials include a B.S. in Criminal Justice and an M.S. in Criminal Justice from Kaplan University, as well as a Ph.D. in Public Safety-Criminal Justice from Capella University. She is also a Certified Fraud Examiner, a New Jersey Licensed Private Detective and an investigative analyst.