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Article Learning Series: Part 1-Introduction to OSINT Investigation (Open Source Intelligence)

OSINT is produced from publicly available information that is collected, exploited and disseminated in timely manner to an appropriate audience for the purpose of addressing a specific intelligence requirement. It helps in creating lawful intelligence from publicly available information (thus, does not exploit privacy of the user) while the sources of intelligence remain hidden. Steps to conduct an OSINT investigation are shown in figure 1. As an analyst, it is important that you do a thorough planning and think about your actions in each step, identify what your goals are.

Figure 1: Steps to conduct an OSINT investigation. The produced intelligence is shared with specific audiences. Open source information can be obtained from different search engines, social media sites, deep and dark web, metadata from images, videos, documents and others. OSINT can be effectively used in the policy and strategy making domains, national security, business intelligence and criminal investigations. Effective use of OSINT tools does not only help the analyst to get the best clues but also supports precedent and successive investigation milestones. Begin your research by studying some of these search engine websites.

Search engines: More often we use Google and it is the most popular search engine today. However, there are so many alternative search engines including Bing which is considered superior for its image search GUI, Yandex which is used by more than 45% Russians, Belarus, Turkey, Ukraine and Kazakhstan (useful if you are searching for non-US content). Swiss cows engine is known to be respecting user privacy and hence does not collect, store or track user data. Duck Duck Go and Start Page is similar to Swiss cows, you can keep your browsing habits private. Baidu is a Chinese search engine, being the fourth largest website in the Alexa Internet rankings. Others include Raftaar, Qwant, Exalead, Mojeek, Gigablast and many more. Social media networks: A list of social media websites which are helpful in gathering information include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat. Your first step should ideally be to explore different features of each social media tool and think backwards how you would want to obtain information if you were given a profile to find information on. Archives: Archives contain historical records where the digital prints have accumulated over the course of time. There are various archives where you can obtain information about the past activities/ pages of a website. Wayback Machine is one of the most popular ones. It enables you to search, manage and capture digital web archives. Other archives include Archive control, Belling Cat, Mass archive script and so on.

Reverse image search: Lets take, for example you have an image and you want to find out its source, the composition or the profile of the picture- reverse image search is your go to option. Google image search, Tin Eye, Bing, Baidu and Yandex reverse image search, Twitter search called as Twipho.

Task for the students who have the motivation to self-learn

1.Research on different types of search engines and see what makes each one different from the rest. Prepare an excel sheet/ table and note it down. This will help you to do better while you are investigating.

2. Prepare an excel sheet which documents all features of the following social media applications- Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Hike, Telegram and Twitter. If this interests you, take up more applications and complete your pack!

Note from the author The upcoming articles will focus on the steps of OSINT investigation. This entire series of articles will build step by step enabling the readers with the foundations to begin from. Almost all of them will include a takeaway activity like this article did, and I hope to see the results flood in. You can write to me at and I will be happy to see what you have done. Okay, let’s google!

Published by Dr Malvika Mehta (ACSFS) (MSc) (BAMS) Forensic Investigator, Consultant, Trainer & an independant Expert Witness, OSINT specialist.

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