There are plenty of reasons a business or individual might need the services of open-source intelligence or OSINT companies in the UK. Aside from conducting investigations, these OSINT firms might just be the best preventive measure any company could invest in against threats and cyber crimes.
But what exactly do OSINT companies in the UK do? OSINT agencies provide valuable intelligence services to businesses, government agencies, and individuals. These companies specialize in open-source intelligence gathering and analysis using advanced tools and techniques to extract valuable insights from public sources. Whether you need to monitor social media activity, track online threats, or conduct due diligence on a potential business partner, OSINT companies in the UK can help you achieve your goals with precision and efficiency.
In this article, we will give you a brief overview of OSINT and how they have helped individuals and businesses. We will also discuss the factors you need to consider in choosing OSINT companies in the UK.
Defining Open-Source Intelligence or OSINT
The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence defines open-source intelligence or OSINT as “intelligence derived from publicly available information that has limited public distribution or access.” OSINT investigations are especially useful when interpreted by trained analysts in an unbiased and prejudice-free way.
In addition, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) in the UK defines OSINT research as “the collection, evaluation, and analysis of materials from sources available to the public, whether on payment or otherwise, to use as intelligence or evidence within an investigation.”
Both these definitions point to information available to the public. That is why OSINT involves obtaining information using online research, social media analysis, and data mining from public records and databases. It retrieves public information from:
- the internet
- government information, such as public hearings, court cases, and public reports and records
- publicly available corporate data, including financial statements
- specialized journals, studies, and conference proceedings
- traditional mass media, such as television, radio, magazines, and newspapers
- geospatial information, such as maps and commercial imagery
A Brief Background of OSINT in the UK
OSINT surveillance dates back to the 1930s, when the United States Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service (FBIS) was founded to monitor overseas public radio frequencies. It was heavily used in military settings for espionage and strategic intelligence gathering.
By 1941, radio, newspapers, journals, and press clippings had become the primary intelligence source during World War II. In the United Kingdom, the UK Foreign Research and Press Service and BBC Monitoring Service included OSINT in their operations to gain insights into the activities in Nazi-held territories.
UK government agencies like the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) continued to use OSINT through the years. By the early 2000s, the UK Ministry of Defence established the Defence Open-Source Intelligence Service (DOSIS) to support OSINT use in military operations.
OSINT kept gaining popularity with the rise of social media, leading to an abundance of publicly available information online. Because of this, several OSINT companies emerged in the UK, with services ranging from social media monitoring to online investigations.
The UK government has also recognized the use of OSINT in national security and law enforcement. In 2019, the NPCC released guidance on using OSINT by law enforcement agencies in the UK, highlighting the importance of ethical and lawful use of OSINT and emphasizing the need for proper training and expertise.
How UK Companies Use OSINT to Obtain Valuable Intelligence
OSINT techniques are practiced by professionals in various industries, including but not limited to:
- fraud investigators
- cybersecurity analysts
- law enforcement agencies
- military operations
- human resources
- investigative journalists
- security professionals
Check out some examples of how companies use OSINT for their own businesses.
Businesses use OSINT to monitor a competitor’s website, social media accounts, and online forums. Through this, investigators gather information about their new product launches, customer complaints, and marketing campaigns. The collected competitive intelligence can help the company make informed decisions about their product development and marketing strategies, strategically staying ahead of their competitors.
Moreover, OSINT investigators can monitor industry trends, regulatory changes, and emerging technologies that impact a company’s business. Businesses gain insights into market opportunities and potential risks by analyzing information from various sources like news articles, industry reports, and social media.
A good example is a UK company operating in the financial sector. They can use OSINT to monitor regulatory changes that may affect their business and identify potential areas for growth or investment.
Reputation management is an essential aspect of any business. After all, the public’s perception of a company through social media, news, and other online sources affects customer trust and loyalty.
For instance, companies can use OSINT to track down the sources of negative comments or reviews online, allowing them to address the issues promptly. On the other hand, if a company’s online reputation is positive, they can leverage that information to build brand awareness and loyalty.
But reputation management does not stop at businesses. OSINT can also be used to track the reputation of a company’s executives or other key personnel. Doing so lets companies quickly respond to negative press or identify potential security threats. For example, if an executive’s name is mentioned in conjunction with a data breach, the company can take steps to ensure the security of any sensitive information.
Companies considering a potential partnership, investment, or acquisition must ensure that the other party is trustworthy and reputable. OSINT helps them gather critical information about the other party, such as their financial background and history, including any bankruptcies or financial struggles.
Additionally, OSINT can help uncover past legal issues, such as lawsuits or criminal charges, that might indicate a history of fraudulent or unethical behavior. Companies can also conduct background checks on their regulatory compliance history to spot violations or sanctions.
By conducting thorough due diligence, companies can make informed decisions and diminish risks in entering a new business partnership or investment.
OSINT is an indispensable tool for companies seeking valuable intelligence about their target markets. OSINT analyzes social media conversations, forums, and blogs to gather insights into consumer sentiment, preferences, and buying habits. It also helps companies identify emerging markets, track competitors’ activities, and evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.
Using OSINT for market research helps companies make more informed business decisions, minimize risks, and increase their competitive advantage.
OSINT enables companies to identify potential risks that may affect their business operations, including threats to their physical security, reputation, and financial stability.
For instance, companies can use OSINT to track the activities of hackers, cybercriminals, or other malicious actors that may threaten their networks, data, or intellectual property. They can also monitor geopolitical tensions in regions where they operate, as these may affect their supply chain, workforce, or customers.
Having a comprehensive understanding of the risks they face allows enterprises to develop effective risk management strategies to protect their business interests.
OSINT helps companies detect and prevent fraud by identifying red flags and suspicious behavior indicating fraudulent activity, such as irregular transactions or discrepancies in accounting records.
OSINT can also help companies investigate cases of fraud or embezzlement by providing valuable evidence and insights. For example, a company may use OSINT to track the online activity of an employee suspected of fraud. Investigators may look for signs of unusual behavior, such as a sudden increase in spending or connections to suspicious individuals or organizations. With this, businesses can save millions of dollars and prevent brand damage.
Is OSINT Legal in the UK?
While OSINT is legal in the UK, it is subject to privacy laws. Members of the European Union (EU) protect their data through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but since the UK has withdrawn from the EU, they have their own “UK GDPR” under the Data Protection Act of 2018 (DPA).
The UK GDPR does not differ much from the EU GDPR, as they have the same core provisions. The DPA has provided rules for handling and processing personal data, which affects all organizations that manage such data.
It indicates that organizations should have a lawful basis before collecting and processing personal data and that they should protect data security. They should also be transparent about their data collection practices. Otherwise, they risk getting fined up to £17.5 million or 4% of the breaching companies’ global turnover.
That means concerned groups should conduct regular audits of their data collection processes and implement policies and procedures under the DPA.
Another law relevant to OSINT data gathering in the UK is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which regulates surveillance and intelligence-gathering techniques used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Though RIPA does not cover private companies, it still applies when a government entity hires a private company to carry out surveillance activities, such as:
- covert surveillance in public places
- collecting communications data
- intercepting communications
- using covert human intelligence
Observing these regulations guarantees that OSINT inquiries are conducted lawfully and ethically, upholds an individual’s right to privacy, and safeguards their personal information.
5 Factors to Consider When Choosing an OSINT Company in the UK
Looking for an OSINT company in the UK? Whether you want to start an investigation, scour the dark web for threats, or check out a potential business partner, here are five factors to take into account when selecting your OSINT agency.
Experience and Reputation
OSINT companies with years of experience in the trade possess a track record of successful investigations, know which sources to use, and have established processes for gathering and analyzing information. They also have knowledge and expertise in different areas, such as legal compliance, data protection, and privacy regulations, making sure that investigations are conducted in a legal and ethical manner.
Experienced OSINT professionals also have a vast network of contacts, tools, and techniques they can leverage to obtain information. Thus, an OSINT company’s experience can directly impact the quality of intelligence gathered.
One of the top OSINT companies serving the UK and the rest of Europe is corma — a German-based investigative firm providing professional European and international corporate investigation, research, intelligence, and training services. With over 20 years of experience in the private eye sector, corma’s team of private investigators is determined to uncover and avoid potential risks to your business and reputation, such as fraud, counterfeiting, and other criminal activities.
Personnel and Resources
An OSINT agency with experienced and skilled personnel is equipped to handle complex investigations, leading to more accurate and valuable results. They also have access to various resources, such as advanced technology and specialized databases, to aid their investigations. Because of these, you can expect a comprehensive and in-depth intelligence report to inform your decision-making.
When choosing an OSINT company, it is best to ask about the personnel’s background to gauge their experience handling investigations. For instance, corma employs former police detectives, certified private investigators, fraud examiners, and intelligence analysts to assist you with any security issues. They also use advanced tools, resources, and databases to ensure comprehensive and fully documented investigation results.
As with any collaboration, keeping your communication lines open is paramount. Having direct access to the people handling your investigation will not only establish a comfortable working relationship, but also provide peace of mind. Lack of communication can lead to misunderstandings and delays, affecting the investigation results.
Having your questions answered is an integral part of good communication. In fact, you should ask many questions before hiring any OSINT company in the UK, as this will give you insights into what to expect in their investigative process.
Being a reliable OSINT company means delivering accurate and timely results and being accountable for any discrepancies or errors in their report. Missing deadlines or providing incomplete information can lead to poor decision-making and potentially costly mistakes for the client.
The cost of OSINT services varies greatly, so companies must choose a provider that fits their budget while meeting their needs. Choosing an OSINT agency that is too expensive can strain a company’s resources, while opting for a cheap provider may result in subpar or inadequate services. But more than the cost at face value, businesses should ensure the services an OSINT company provides are proportional to the value they offer and their potential ROI.
corma takes your budget into account when creating an investigation plan that suits your needs and situation. Schedule a consultation so corma can provide the perfect solution for you.
How to Become an OSINT Expert in the UK
If you want to make a career as an open-source intelligence expert and be hired by an OSINT company in the UK, you have several options to go about it.
You can get a university course, apprenticeship, or relevant work experience. While there is no direct intelligence program you can take, you could gain relevant skills from data analysis-related courses, such as:
- math and statistics
- social science
If you want to go the apprenticeship route, you can find opportunities as an intelligence analyst or cybersecurity technologist. Degree apprenticeships as a police constable or crime investigator can also equip you with the skills and knowledge required as an OSINT investigator. Related jobs in security services and police intelligence can also prepare you for an OSINT career.
Another method is to undergo OSINT training from accredited trainers. corma offers basic OSINT training to help you learn the fundamentals and practical skills of open-source intelligence.
With corma’s training, you can:
- Learn how to use corma’s investigative approach to search for specific topics, persons, and organizations efficiently
- Discover essential OSINT tools like VPNs, virtual machines, and anonymous cell phones
- Optimally configure your browser for investigations and use it anytime through backups
- Know the basics of efficient internet searches and implement structured investigation plans
- Master the basics of online evidence gathering and preservation
If you want to hone your analytical thinking and reasoning skills with corma’s basic internet investigations and OSINT training, schedule a consultation today.
To sum up, OSINT companies in the UK are valuable allies for businesses and organizations, as they help them obtain intelligence that will gain an advantage over their competitors. It is widely used in various industries, including cybersecurity, law enforcement, journalism, and market research. By leveraging OSINT, businesses can conduct competitive analysis, reputation management, due diligence, market research, risk management, and fraud detection.
However, companies should be aware of the legal and privacy implications of using OSINT, as they are subject to the UK GDPR and other relevant laws and regulations. Regular audits and implementing policies and procedures following these laws are essential to ensure the responsible handling and processing of personal data.
Plus, selecting an OSINT company to work with should take various factors into consideration, such as the OSINT agency’s experience and reputation, personnel and resources, communication, reliability, and cost. While there are many ways to become an OSINT expert, corma’s basic OSINT training can help you nail the fundamentals and skills needed for open-source intelligence.