What is open-source intelligence? Exploring the sources

16 February, 2023

By the CameraForensics team

What is open-source intelligence? Exploring the sources

How can open-source intelligence (OSINT) benefit investigators that are dedicated to safeguarding victims, and bringing those responsible to justice? 

Referring to any publicly available information that can be gathered, analysed, and used to support decision-making, OSINT encompasses a varied range of data sources. These sources are valuable resources empowering the search for new information and progress cases. Often, they may be the key that leads to breakthroughs that help drive positive change.  

In this blog, we explore the different types of OSINT sources used by investigators, how they are furthering investigations, and this intelligence is fuelling positive impacts, such as aiding in the Ukraine conflict.  


6 common OSINT sources: 


Search engine media 

One of the most common types of OSINT sources used by investigators is online media and information gained from popular search engines.  

Google, Bing, and others allow investigators to quickly and easily access a wide range of information from all over the web – providing them with greater insights to support their research. The open-source intelligence found natively on websites can include news articles, links between sites, and more.  

Search engine media can also expand to the dark web – an alternative online platform that contains a range of illegitimate and legitimate sites, accessible through interfaces like TOR browser. Investigators may find a range of additional information on the dark web, granting greater insights to support ongoing research.  

Discover more: Explore the challenges of accessing and analysing the dark web 


Social networks 

Another important OSINT source is social media imagery.  

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are rich sources of information that can help investigators piece together a subject’s activity, whereabouts, and connections.  

For example, investigators can use geotagged images to track a subject’s movements or to analyse images of a crime scene to identify suspects or witnesses. Social media platforms are also invaluable for gathering additional information on both victims and perpetrators. Investigators can analyse forums or video content to understand people’s interests, hobbies, relationships, or even their beliefs and opinions. 

Uploaded videos can be used to analyse a crime scene or identify suspects. The journalist group Bellingcat have used this exact process in many of their investigations, including geolocating the site of Armenian executions, and tracking and identifying Russian aggressors in Ukraine. 

These seemingly small details are often what can lead to big breakthroughs. 

Online directories  

Online directories do much more than help people find a service. They are accessible resources investigators can use to uncover tangible details about a subject.  

These directories can include phone books, a range of business information, and other types of online listings. 

Using these directories, an investigator could find the address and phone number of a company (via Companies House or similar tools) or use a phone book to find the home address of an individual. Directories such as LinkedIn and Spokeo can also provide information about a person’s employment and professional networks. 


Satellite navigation data  

Publicly available navigation data is another valuable OSINT source frequently used to track, detect or analyse crime scenes. This can include information from GPS devices, satellite images, and other types of location-based data.  

Investigators could use satellite images to either identify a specific location or use GPS data to track a suspect’s movements at a point in time or over a period of time. Satellite navigation data also helps to paint a picture of a subject’s travel patterns – providing investigators with more intelligence to help understand behaviours or even identify a crime scene.  

It may even result in evidence that a subject was present at a particular location, at a particular time. 


Exif data 

Exif data (Exchangeable Image File Format) represents vital open-source intelligence for investigators. Modern digital cameras attach a goldmine of information to every photo captured, which ranges from the date and time of capture to serial number and camera model.  

By using the CameraForensics platform to extract valuable metadata from images, we’ve helped investigators uncover the intelligence needed to identify numerous offenders, and safeguard multiple victims, quickly and with confidence.  

Learn more: how does our native tool help extract Exif data from images? 


Open-source software 

Open-source software is different to open-source intelligence, but an equally important tool. 

This refers to software that is distributed with exposed source code through online communities, like Github, which can be altered or transformed by users.  

Platforms like these have led to the emergence of large communities passionate about modifying software for enhanced capabilities or other use cases.  

Open-source software can be used to conduct investigations in different ways, such as: 

  • Extracting data from social media 
  • Analysing data 
  • Conducting forensic analysis 

Tools like Maltego, OSINT Framework, and theHarvester are examples of open-source software that are commonly used by investigators. 


Transforming online imaging intelligence by focusing global efforts 

At CameraForensics, we are dedicated to leading and centralising online imaging intelligence, helping investigators access the information and insights needed to safeguard victims worldwide.  

To learn more, dive into our range of industry news and insights, or get in touch with us with any questions or enquiries that you may have.

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