OSINT vs CSINT: understanding the difference

19 May, 2023

By the CameraForensics team

OSINT vs CSINT: understanding the difference

Closed-source Intelligence (CSINT) may not be as widely known as OSINT, but it can deliver similarly transformative intelligence to online investigators. 

Compared to OSINT, CSINT normally refers to information not commonly found in the public domain.  Video analysis tools, specialist datasets, and AI imagery detectors are all examples of CSINT tools, – enabling investigators to take advantage of the latest developments and technology to further their research.  

Below, we’re going into more detail on what CSINT involves, the benefits that using CSINT can bring to investigations, as well as the times at which OSINT and CSINT approaches are the most effective. 


Open-source intelligence – a refresher 

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) can provide investigators with effective and valuable insights using information already available in the public domain. 

OSINT tools are, naturally, open to use. Spanning geographic data, social media data, information found on public directories and more, OSINT provides users with the chance to complete their research, discover new clues, or verify the identity of a perpetrator or victim.  

However, OSINT tools can’t always perfectly deliver the key insights that investigators need. Software may not be user friendly or accessible – and may not offer support in the event of glitches or errors.  

Want to learn more? Explore the wide range of OSINT sources. 


How is OSINT different from CSINT? 

In addition to proprietary tools and software, CSINT may also involve the use of classified information, such as intercepted communications or data from surveillance systems. While this type of information isn’t accessible to the public, it may be available to authorised investigators.  

Due to the confidential nature of this data, CSINT tools are more likely to involve developed and specialist platforms – usually gated through licences, subscriptions, or gated access. In contrast, OSINT tools are publicly available in directories like this


Which approach is right for you? 

Both OSINT and CSINT tools can be valuable for online investigators. However, choosing the right digital tool to gather information is like picking the right physical tool for the job. Just as you wouldn’t use a hammer to screw in a nail, you need to carefully select the right method to obtain the valuable and relevant information you need. 

Ultimately, the choice between OSINT and CSINT tools will depend on the specific requirements of your investigation. It’s also possible that a combination of both types of tools is necessary to achieve your goals. 


Consider the purpose of your research 

Identify the type of information you need access to before you begin approaching different tools.  

It’s no surprise that different types of research require different approaches, and while some OSINT directories can help narrow this down, they may not provide the information you need.

CSINT examples 

Specific, confidential, or specialist information available to select users, including: 

  • Analysis and specialist forensics tools 
  • Classified geolocation services 
  • Confidential datasets supplied by law enforcement agencies 

OSINT examples 

Publicly available information such as:  

  • Usernames 
  • Social media posts 
  • Phone/email verification 
  • Limited geographic knowledge found in the public domain 

While many tools – both OSINT and CSINT – are user friendly and require minimal technical knowledge, some CSINT tools can be more complex and difficult to use. Consider whether you have the necessary skills and training to use the tool you choose. If not, reach out to the developers for any training resources they may have – many are more than happy to help.

Aiding online investigations 

Through R&D projects, a global network of partners, and our own CSINT tools, we’re dedicated to helping investigators further their research in any way possible. To learn more, why not visit our blog? There, we cover a wide range of topics, offering insights on the latest image forensics news, a glossary of terms, and more.

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