Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) – Everything You Need to Know

Written By Sambita Panigrahy  
Anuraag Singh
Approved By Anuraag Singh 
Published On October 31st, 2023
Reading Time 10 Minutes Reading

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is arguably the most popular subtype of threat intelligence, which makes sense. After all, who can refuse something that is largely free?

It is unfortunately frequently misinterpreted and misapplied, just like the other key kinds, such as human intelligence, signals intelligence, and geographic intelligence, to name a few.

Without further ado, let’s have a look at the foundations of open-source intelligence as well as its application and the methods & tools that may be used to gather and process it.

Open Source Intelligence – A Brief Introduction

Identifying, gathering, processing, analyzing, and reporting material from publicly accessible sources for intelligence purposes is known as open source intelligence (OSINT).

Open-source intelligence analysts employ specific techniques to comb through the vast repository of open-source information and identify any information that pertains to their goals. Information that is not widely known to be available to the public is frequently found by OSINT analysts.

Any offline or online information that is readily accessible to the public—whether it is free, available for purchase, or available upon request—is included in OSINT.

Listed below are a few instances of offline and internet data that was used for open-source intelligence.

1. Offline

  • Government, courts, law enforcement, NGOs, and international organizations
  • Academic: Journals, dissertations, and academic research
  • Corporate: Annual reports, conference materials, news articles, staff bios, and resumes
  • Media outlets such as radio, newspapers, and television

2. Online

  • Internet search engines and databases: Whois, Bing, Yahoo, Wayback Machine
  • Platforms for Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram
  • Sharing & Publishing: Dailymotion, Flickr, Youtube, and Pinterest
  • Online Communities, Forums, and Blogging: WordPress, Medium, Reddit, 4Chan
  • Deep web: Any unindexed web pages make up the deep web (sites that are not reachable by internet search engines).
  • The dark web Only darknets provide access to the dark web. Small peer-to-peer or friend-to-friend networks, as well as expansive networks like Tor and I2Ps, can all be considered darknets. The dark web is home to a large number of illicit websites.

Background Information on OSTINT

The military and intelligence community first coined the term OSINT to refer to intelligence-gathering activities that acquire strategically significant, readily accessible information on matters of national security.

During the Cold War, acquiring intelligence primarily involved using human sources (HUMINT) or electronic signals (SIGINT), but in the 1980s, OSINT emerged as a third way to gather information.

Open-source intelligence now has access to a wealth of tools to gather information on every facet of an organization’s IT infrastructure and personnel thanks to the Internet, social media, and digital services. In order to keep one step ahead of attackers, security organizations understand that they must gather this publicly available information.

Finding information that could endanger the organization is a CISO’s first priority. As a result, CISOs can lower risk before an attacker takes advantage of a problem. Regular penetration testing, in which data obtained from OSINT is utilized to mimic a breach of organizational systems, should be used in conjunction with OSINT.

Now, let’s see how attackers use OSINT.

OSINT and Threat Actors – Understand the Dark Side

Attackers frequently utilize OSINT to gather personal and professional data about employees via social media. This can be used to create spear-phishing campaigns that are directed at those with access to sensitive corporate resources.

Due to its ability to disclose job titles and organizational structure, LinkedIn is a fantastic source for this kind of open-source knowledge. The information that is disclosed on other social networking sites is also very important to attackers since it can be used for phishing and password guessing. Examples of this information include birth dates, names of family members, and names of pets.

Utilizing cloud resources to search public networks for open ports, unpatched assets, and incorrectly configured cloud data stores is another prevalent method. 

An attacker can also recover credentials and other stolen data from websites like GitHub if they know what they are looking for. Developers that are not concerned with security may include encryption keys and passwords in their code, which can be found by hackers using specialized searches.

How do Defenders or Security Teams Use Open Source Intelligence?

OSINT strives to make public data on internal assets and other information accessible outside the business for penetration testers and security teams. Your company may have mistakenly released crucial information in the metadata.

Open ports, unpatched software with known vulnerabilities, publicly accessible IT information such as device names, IP addresses, and configurations, as well as other leaked material belonging to the business, are a few examples of useful information that can be uncovered by OSINT.

Websites outside of your company, particularly social media, offer a tonne of valuable information, particularly data pertaining to employees. Partners and suppliers can also disclose detailed information about the IT environment of a company. When a corporation buys another company, the publicly available information about them also becomes important.

Different OSINT Gathering Techniques 

After discussing both positive and negative applications of open-source intelligence, it is time to examine some of the methods that can be utilized to obtain and analyze open-source data.

In order to gather and use open-source intelligence, you must first have a defined strategy and framework in place. In order to avoid being overwhelmed by the vast amount of information available through open sources, it is not advised to approach open source intelligence from the standpoint of seeking anything and everything that might be interesting or valuable.

Instead, you must be very clear about the objectives you’re seeking to meet — such as locating and fixing network weaknesses — and concentrate all of your efforts on achieving those objectives.

The second step is to choose a set of methods and tools for gathering and analyzing open-source data. Once more, there is far too much information accessible for manual methods to be even marginally effective.

Open-source intelligence is obtained in two basic categories: passive collection and active collection. Let’s individually discuss this.

Passive & Active Collection of Open Source Intelligence

It is common practice in the passive collection to combine threat feeds into a single, easily accessible location using threat intelligence platforms (TIPs). Even while this is a huge advance over manual intelligence gathering, the risk of information overload still persists. More advanced threat intelligence tools, like Recorded Future, automate the process of prioritizing and ignoring warnings in line with the particular needs of each organization, which solves this problem.

In a manner similar to this, organized threat organizations routinely make use of botnets to collect vital data using techniques like traffic sniffing and keylogging.

  • A passively gathered warning has shown a potential risk, and more details are required.
  • Similar to a penetration test, an intelligence-gathering exercise has a very specific goal.

Some Popular OSINT Tools

We’ll look at some of the most popular tools for gathering and analyzing open-source intelligence before we wrap up.

1. Maltego

Hackers and network penetration testers frequently utilize the Kali Linux operating system, which includes Maltego. Although it is open source, Paterva, the solution provider, requires registration. Users can configure a “machine,” a type of scripting method, to execute against a target and gather the data they need.

2. Spiderfoot

A free OSINT program called Spiderfoot is offered on GitHub. It can be used to obtain data about a company, including network addresses, contact information, and credentials because it interfaces with many different data sources.

3. Spyse

For security experts, Spyse is a “search engine for Internet assets.” It gathers information from freely accessible sources, analyses it, and pinpoints security risks.

4. Intelligence X

An archival service called Intelligence X keeps older versions of online pages that were taken down due to censorship or legal issues. No matter how obscene or divisive the content, it is preserved. This covers data that has been removed from the public Internet as well as data that has leaked from government websites, the black web, wikileaks, and other sources.

5. Shodan

It is a security monitoring tool that enables deep web and IoT network searches. It makes it possible to find any kind of networked device, including webcams, servers, and smart electronics.


Whatever your objectives, all cybersecurity disciplines can benefit greatly from open-source intelligence. However, it will ultimately take some time and trial and error to identify the best set of tools and methods for your particular needs. The tools and methods required to locate vulnerable assets differ from those that would be used to connect data points from various sources or follow up on a threat alert.

Any open-source intelligence project must have a clear strategy in place in order to succeed. Once you know what you’re attempting to accomplish and have set targets accordingly, it will be much easier to discover the most beneficial tools and methodologies.


Q- What is OSINT?

The term “open source intelligence” (OSINT) describes the gathering and examination of publicly available data, usually from open sources including the internet, social media, news, and other publicly available data.

Q- What primary sources do you use for OSINT data?

Websites, social media platforms, news stories, public records, government websites, scholarly studies, and more can all provide OSINT data.

Q- What makes OSINT significant?

Threat assessment, corporate intelligence, cybersecurity, and investigative journalism are just a few of the many uses for which open-source intelligence (OSINT) is crucial. It offers insightful information without using invasive or unlawful techniques.

Q- Is OSM allowed?

OSINT is legal as long as the information originates from publicly accessible sources. Nonetheless, obtaining confidential or restricted information without authorization is illegal.

Q- How is OSINT different from other forms of intelligence?

Whereas OSINT relies on publicly available data, other forms of intelligence, such as HUMINT (human intelligence) and SIGINT (signals intelligence), may incorporate private or classified data and sources.

Q- Which instruments and methods are employed in OSINT?

Search engines, data scraping, social media monitoring, geolocation analysis, image and video analysis, and language translation tools are just a few of the tools and methods that OSINT analysts employ.

Q- Is it possible for somebody to exploit OSINT for personal gain?

It is true that people can utilize OSINT for private objectives like looking up background information, vetting possible employers, or monitoring someone’s internet activity. It should, nevertheless, always be carried out morally and legally.

Q- How does OSINT help businesses?

Companies can utilize Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) to obtain competitive and market intelligence, evaluate brand image, spot possible dangers, and make data-driven decisions.

Q- How can people shield themselves from OSINT when using the internet?

By limiting the personal information they disclose on social media, creating strong, one-of-a-kind passwords, turning on privacy settings, and exercising caution when posting anything online, people may preserve their online privacy.

Q- What are some typical obstacles in the study of OSINT?

Information overload, determining the reliability of sources, data validation, and dealing with misinformation and deception are typical difficulties in OSINT analysis.

Q- Are security and investigative domains the only ones that use OSINT?

No, there are numerous uses for OSINT in academic research, media, marketing, and competitive analysis.