Understanding the Different Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) Services and Tools and How They Benefit Businesses

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Table of Contents

Gone are the days when gathering information seemed like a humongous task. Nowadays, the prevalence of online resources such as blogs, forums, social media platforms, websites, and even the deep and dark web allows almost anyone to get the information they need and leverage open-source intelligence or OSINT services.

But are there different OSINT services? A wide range of OSINT services exist for businesses, but the most common ones include online reputation management, cyberthreat intelligence, social media intelligence, dark web monitoring, and due diligence investigations. These are professional solutions that use publicly available data to gather information and insights to help individuals, businesses, and organizations make informed decisions. By leveraging the power of OSINT, these services enable users to uncover hidden connections, patterns, and trends that traditional research methods may miss.

Explore the most common OSINT investigation services, tools, and software companies and organizations use in this article. You will also learn how these services are leveraged using the OSINT cycle.

What are the Benefits of OSINT Services?

OSINT services pose several advantages for their users. For one, it is a cost-effective method of gathering data, as it leverages often-free public information that requires no financial investment. However, OSINT companies may want to invest in premium tools for data collection, which often come in affordable and customizable packages.

Another benefit is its legality. Since open-source intelligence is published publicly with consent from the source, any data you find is perfectly legal. However, you have to be mindful of processing and disseminating the information gathered through OSINT, as these may be covered by data privacy laws that vary in each state.

Lastly, OSINT information is regularly updated due to its public nature. This allows business owners and other corporate decision-makers to gain a broader perspective that will help create long-term strategies for achieving their business goals.

Common Types of OSINT Services

Different types of OSINT services can assist your organization in recovering financial losses, preventing criminal acts, and identifying suspects in criminal cases. The common types of OSINT services are listed below.

Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT)

Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT) is a sub-discipline of OSINT. This intelligence service refers to the strategies, systems, and tools that enable gathering and analyzing information from social media platforms

SOCMINT encompasses all types of social media, not just social networking sites. Social networking websites like Facebook and LinkedIn are only a tiny part of the platforms available for data collection. Other examples of social media sharing sites where you can find information are the following:

  • Instagram
  • Reddit and other similar forums
  • Pinterest and other image-sharing sites
  • Youtube and other video-sharing platforms
  • Twitter
  • VK.com
  • Blogging platforms like WordPress
  • Telegram

SOCMINT tools address common issues associated with large-scale leveraging of public social data, such as data overload, knowledge gaps, and data privacy concerns. It is frequently related to investigations into a criminal group or individual. 

Private firms and organizations also use SOCMINT to collect information to improve business choices, improve marketing, assure brand protection, and uncover patterns and trends.

You can gather three main types of information from social media platforms:

Profile Information

This type of information provides the basic details about a specific individual. Depending on the social media platform, this could comprise information like the following:

  • user’s work title
  • hometown
  • current and previous employers
  • skills
  • contact information

Interactions

This information comprises a user’s different interactions and activities on a social media platform. Some examples of interactions are:

  • posting statuses, videos, or images
  • commenting or replying to other people’s content
  • liking or reacting to other content

Metadata

Metadata includes contextual information about the content. Some examples of metadata in social media platforms are:

  • location tagged in a post
  • the time the post was published
  • the type of device used to take a photo

Dark Web Monitoring

The dark web is a secret network of internet sites that can only be accessed with a specialized web browser. Dark web monitoring tools function similarly to conventional web search engines. These technologies aid in discovering leaked or stolen information such as compromised passwords, credentials, intellectual property, and other sensitive material shared and sold by unlawful parties operating on the dark web.

Dark web monitoring solutions provide better detection of risks on the dark web. It constantly explores the dark web for raw intelligence and helps businesses in the following:

Searching For Threats

You can supply the dark web monitoring tool data into an automated threat intelligence system. Threat hunters can utilize dark web surveillance to accelerate their investigations and gain complete insight into attackers and their strategies.

Faster Incident Response

You can use a dark web monitoring tool to categorize dangers from unknown sources. Businesses that receive notifications when their data surfaces on the dark web might utilize that knowledge to identify and mitigate threats quickly.

A dark web monitor can reveal the following categories of threats:

  • Third-party breaches
  • Data leaks to hacker forums and criminal chatrooms
  • P2P leaking
  • Unintentional leaks
  • Brand infringement
  • Impersonations
  • Spoofing domains
  • Potential threats

Online Reputation Management

Managing an organization’s online reputation entails safeguarding its brand, reputation, and confidential information. Some of the brand protection risks that enterprises should be aware of and that OSINT can monitor and detect are as follows:

  • Brandjacking
  • Smearing
  • Intellectual property theft

Failing to identify and mitigate these brand reputation risks immediately can lead to a bad reputation, resulting in decreased trust among consumers, partners, and employees and possible revenue loss. 

corma, Germany’s leading private investigative agency, helps small businesses and major multinational corporations strengthen corporate security. corma assists brand managers navigate the complexities of brand protection investigations in Germany, Europe, and beyond.

Competitive Intelligence

Competitive intelligence refers to information regarding a competitor’s products, services, strategies, market position, strengths, and weaknesses. Through an open-source analysis, competitive intelligence can be developed to answer the organization’s internal and external demands. 

Here are some specific scenarios in which competitive intelligence research can be beneficial.

  • Getting into a new market
  • Creating a new product
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Market saturation

Competitive intelligence research gathers information from various sources, including online sources and interviews with customers, prospects, rival customers, and former workers of other firms. These data points are then examined and aggregated so that firms may make better marketing, product development, business decisions, and other strategic planning projects. 

Due Diligence Investigations

A due diligence investigation entails thoroughly assessing a company’s or individual’s history, including economic, legal, fiscal, and financial situations. This investigation includes information such as sales numbers, shareholder structure, and potential linkages to economic crime such as corruption and tax evasion.

Conducting a due diligence check helps an organization:

  • Detect suspicious dealings, fraud, and other histories of criminal activities of a prospective partner.
  • Reduce exposure to litigation, fines, and other penalties due to an untrustworthy business partner’s conduct.
  • Ensure employees’ safety in a workplace devoid of individuals with a history of violence and criminal activity.
  • Maintain a favorable brand image by avoiding ties with people or businesses that could harm the company’s reputation.
  • Maintain industry compliance by completing a trustworthy business partner background check.

Financial Intelligence

Fraud activities are prominent nowadays. No matter how cautious organizations are, they can still occur. Financial intelligence investigations are carried out to detect suspicious transaction reports, pertinent money laundering information, related predicate offenses, and terrorism financing. 

OSINT tools such as reverse email and phone searches can help investigators track down the entity responsible for fraud activity. For example, if the fraud is launched via text message, a reverse phone number lookup is typically the first step in locating the perpetrator. It may not be the only information the investigator requires, but it will be one piece of the puzzle that comes together to trace the fraudster.

Cyberthreat Intelligence

Threat intelligence analyzes data using methods and tools to produce beneficial information about threats aimed at the organization. By examining threat data and offering information on enemies, security experts can use cyber intelligence to prevent and mitigate cyberattacks faster, thus saving money and protecting companies against revenue loss. 

Cyber threat intelligence provides extensive contextual data that can be used to acquire a better knowledge of the attacker’s targets, motives, and attacks. Furthermore, having increased visibility benefits identifying new threat groups, malware variants, and other threats.

OSINT Training

OSINT frequently entails extracting insights and information from enormous amounts of data using modern analytical techniques, like natural language processing and machine learning.

Attending an OSINT workshop like corma’s Internet Investigations and Basic OSINT Training will help you gain knowledge about the following:

  • Investigative techniques to search for specific subjects, people, and organizations
  • Using investigative tools like VPNs, virtual machines, anonymous cell phones, and similar devices
  • Configuring your browser optimally for investigations and utilizing it at any moment via backups
  • The fundamentals of effective Internet searches and implementing systematic investigation plans
  • Professional search strategies and tools for evidential search processes
  • The fundamentals of obtaining and preserving online evidence
  • Creating undercover accounts on key social media platforms
  • Skills and expertise to optimize the security and usability of your investigations using virtual computers
  • Learn about the benefits of professional solutions over free OSINT tools

Who Uses OSINT Investigation Services?

The great thing about OSINT is that it serves more than just one industry. In fact, various businesses, groups, and even individuals benefit from OSINT services.

Government

Perhaps the most prevalent user of OSINT research services is the government — particularly the military department. Governments use OSINT for counterterrorism, national security, and tracking terrorists online. 

It also helps them understand domestic and foreign sentiments on various subjects, giving policymakers enough information and insight when creating internal and external policies.

International Organizations

Humanitarian organizations like the United Nations and International Red Cross use OSINT intelligence for various purposes, such as providing relief during crises or disasters and protecting supply chains from terrorist groups. They do this by analyzing social media sites, websites, and internet messages to anticipate future terrorist actions.

Law Enforcement Agencies

The police use OSINT services for investigating, researching, and monitoring subjects over the internet. Law enforcement agencies keep tabs on social media channels for keywords and pictures that can help solve and prevent crimes before they escalate.

Businesses

Businesses are one of the most prevalent users of OSINT services, and for good reason. Done right, OSINT can help them do market research, monitor their competitors, plan their marketing activities, and predict market trends — all of which contribute to boosting their ROI.

But the benefits of OSINT are not limited to financial ones. OSINT intelligence can also prevent data leakages, formulate threat intelligence strategies, and create effective cyber-risk management policies to protect their brand, reputation, and customer base.

OSINT is also helpful in recruiting new employees or evaluating potential partnerships through background checks and due diligence investigations.

Cybercrime Groups and Terrorists

If the government, military, and law enforcement agencies can leverage OSINT, so can cybercrime and terrorist groups. Hackers and penetration testers use OSINT services to gather online intelligence on a specific target, which may lead to social engineering attacks. After all, the first phase of any penetration testing procedure begins with reconnaissance or OSINT.

Terrorist groups can also use OSINT to collect information about targets before attacking them, groom their fighters, acquire publicly available military information, and spread their propaganda through social media sites.

On the other hand, businesses and government entities can use OSINT services to fortify their defenses against these cyberattacks.

Private Investigators

Private investigators serving privacy-conscious individuals may use OSINT services to track their digital footprint and maintain their privacy by deleting any private data or sensitive information on the internet. It is also a great tool for combating identity theft.

How OSINT Works: The OSINT Cycle

The OSINT cycle outlines the process of gathering, evaluating, and distributing publicly available data. Combining OSINT cycle expertise with enhanced research and collecting technologies will significantly help conduct investigations.

The OSINT cycle has five stages, which are described below.

Planning

The first phase involves a discussion of the priorities and requirements of the task. Investigators should have a clear idea of the information they need, what they expect to accomplish, and how to find sources of the required information. The planning stage ensures the investigation’s productivity and efficiency in the succeeding stages of the OSINT cycle.

Data Collection

After preparation, the gathering of OSINT data can commence. During this phase, the OSINT investigator harvests information from selected sources. OSINT resources involve any material publicly available on the internet, such as blogs, news, and posts on social media platforms.

There are three commonly used data-gathering methods.

  • Passive: This method involves scraping public websites, getting data from open APIs, or extracting data from deep web sources.
  • Semi-passive: This form of collection needs more expertise. It routes traffic to a specific server to gather information on the server. 
  • Active: This data collection method works directly with a system to acquire information. Active collection systems access open ports and scan online apps or servers for vulnerabilities using new technologies.

Choosing which method to use depends on the scenario and the type of intelligence you want to gather. If your team needs OSINT training, corma’s Internet Investigations and OSINT Basic Training can give them the knowledge they need to optimize their investigations.

Data Processing

This phase entails compiling and processing the information you have gathered. You may organize it into a centralized evidence repository, timeline, or report. In this stage, you will summarize the content to make it legible for the data recipients. Data processing will allow analysts to use the information in the subsequent phases efficiently.

Data Analysis

Following the initial processing of the collected data, you need to conduct an in-depth examination of the data. During this step, the OSINT Investigator analyzes the produced data utilizing OSINT analytic tools and methodologies.

This stage is vital in the OSINT cycle, as it enables your team to evaluate and anticipate occurrences based on the gathered data. The analyzed information can be organized into a detailed document or presentation. Properly organizing the analyzed information is essential, so the intended audience can understand the outcome of the investigation.

Results Delivery and Feedback

The OSINT cycle concludes with delivering gathered and analyzed intelligence to the appropriate stakeholders. Afterward, the analysts will receive feedback, which is critical in determining whether or not the OSINT cycle should be restarted.

Following the correct methods of the OSINT cycle helps ensure the success of your investigations. 

OSINT Tools and Software

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) tools provide users extensive benefits as they gather data from social media platforms, websites, and blogs. These tools can assist investigators and researchers in collecting data and detecting patterns. By streamlining the data collection process, the following OSINT tools can save time and resources.

Babel X

Babel X by Babel Street is a cloud-based multilingual search tool for publicly available information. This subscription-based service searches for information across 200 languages from an array of sources, including social media, forums, news websites, and blogs.

Babel X uses artificial intelligence to break down language barriers. It also filters relevant data into different categories for OSINT analysis.

Features

  • Cross-lingual search
  • Sentiment analysis in over 50 languages
  • Filter by keywords, authors, hashtags, dates, and times
  • Conduct both persistent and ad-hoc research
  • Analyze themes, entities, categories, and relationships

Pros

Cons

  • Makes research of multilingual and multiregional information easier
  • Helps analyze sentiments of customers on products and services
  • Saves time and resources by filtering helpful information
  • Provides an excellent integration of existing data on a single platform
  • Needs improvement in detecting contextual meanings
  • Might not integrate easily with some platforms

Maltego

Maltego is a versatile OSINT and forensics software for network penetration testers and hackers. This open-source tool is part of the Kali Linux operating system.

Maltego collects data from multiple sources and visualizes the report in graph formats. Likewise, it offers a range of data transformations and footprints to gather information about a target. Users can even write custom transformations for specific needs.

To learn more about it, corma offers Maltego and Social Links Training, a three-day intensive course involving the basics of using Maltego. 

 

Maltego offers a free personal plan that comes with limited searches. If you want more searches, you have to upgrade to a paid plan.

Features

  • Includes built-in data transformations and custom transformation capabilities
  • Offers built-in footprints for efficient analysis
  • Provides data visualization in various graph formats

Pros

Cons

  • Comes with great graph visualization tools for effective analysis
  • Offers multiple data visualization options to cater to different needs
  • Only available as a Java application, which may limit accessibility
  • Dated user interface and may not be as user-friendly as other modern tools

SpiderFoot

Recently acquired by Intel 471, SpiderFoot is an open-source OSINT tool that monitors attack surfaces and performs asset discovery. Loved by intelligence experts, it can access hundreds of open data sources. This tool can also analyze IP addresses, CIDR ranges, domains and subdomains, ASNs, and email addresses.

Moreover, SpiderFoot offers a self-hosted version and a hosted version. The latter provides better performance and full team collaboration. As such, it includes all modules and third-party tools pre-installed and pre-configured.

Feature

  • Access to hundreds of open data sources in real-time
  • Analysis of IP addresses, CIDR ranges, domains and subdomains, ASNs, and email addresses
  • Pre-installed and pre-configured modules and third-party tools

Pros

Cons

  • Affordable plans and open-source version
  • Full team collaboration
  • Steep learning curve

Lampyre

Lampyre is a paid one-click OSINT application useful for due diligence investigations, cyber threat intelligence, crime analysis, and financial analytics. You can start with single data points like the company’s registration number or the concerned person’s full name, and Lampyre will extract interesting and relevant information from that information alone.

Features

  • Automates searches to augment manual investigations
  • Has 100+ data sources 

Pros

Cons

  • Sifts through hundreds of data sources
  • Affordable and flexible payment plans
  • Has a bit of a learning curve

BuiltWith

BuiltWith enables users to identify the technologies used to build a website. With its ability to detect popular content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, users can gain an in-depth understanding of the infrastructure components used by a website. 

This tool also offers to report on CMS versions and plugins. It includes details regarding analytics and tracking tools deployed by a website. Additionally, BuiltWith provides a comprehensive list of JavaScript and CSS libraries, making it easier to identify potential security vulnerabilities.

Features

  • Reporting on website CMS and version
  • Reporting on other infrastructure pieces of a website
  • Detailed information on JavaScript and CSS libraries used by the website
  • Provides information about the web server running the website
  • Displays details of analytics and tracking tools deployed by a website

Pros

Cons

  • Efficient at identifying website technology stack
  • Provides detailed reports on the technologies used on a website
  • Monitors website changes, including new plugins and technologies
  • Helps users spot potential security vulnerabilities
  • Not designed for website vulnerability scanning

Intelligence X

Intelligence X is an innovative archival service and search engine. As such, it preserves historical versions of web pages. It also keeps entire leaked data sets, including controversial information otherwise removed from the web due to offensive content or legal reasons.

Unlike Wayback Machine, Intelligence X preserves all datasets, even those deemed objectionable. That said, it provides access to information not easily accessible elsewhere, making it valuable to intel gatherers, news reporters, and security researchers.

Features

  • Archives entire leaked data sets removed from the web
  • Provides a unique investigation search engine
  • Updates archive regularly
  • Offers APIs & integrations
  • Supports seamless searching

Pros

Cons

  • Preserves extensive sensitive data sets
  • Helps obtain valuable insights
  • Access to sensitive information may pose ethical concerns
  • May require technical expertise to navigate and obtain the most value

Recon-ng

Recon-ng is a powerful tool for developers who need to automate time-consuming OSINT activities. It is coded in Python and boasts a user-friendly interface similar to the popular Metasploit Framework.

Additionally, Recon-ng has an interactive help function that many other Python modules lack. Also, it has a very modular framework, with built-in functions for common tasks, such as standardizing output and managing API keys.

Developers can also choose which functions to use and build an automated module. Even those with limited experience can search publicly available data and return good results.

Features:

  • User-friendly interface, similar to the Metasploit framework
  • Modular framework with pre-installed functions
  • Automates various time-consuming OSINT tasks
  • Includes an interactive help function

 

Pros

Cons

  • Easy to learn and use interface
  • Offers extensive information and best practices on its wiki
  • Free, open-source software
  • Suitable for Junior Python developers
  • Recon-ng may not suffice for all OSINT gathering requirements

Conclusion

OSINT services are an essential aspect of modern intelligence gathering and decision-making. Various OSINT services help individuals and organizations make informed decisions by gathering, analyzing, and interpreting publicly available data. Thanks to the vast amount of data available online, OSINT services are growing increasingly popular in providing accurate and reliable insights.

The different types of OSINT services, such as social media intelligence, dark web monitoring, and cyber threat intelligence, cater to different needs and industries, from businesses to law enforcement agencies. OSINT services offer a range of benefits, including identifying potential threats, conducting due diligence, and uncovering hidden connections and patterns. 

By leveraging the OSINT cycle and utilizing various tools and software, anyone can extract valuable intelligence from multiple sources, gain insights, and stay ahead of the competition.

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