What is OSINT?, 1120 COBJ, Vol. 49, No. 10 Pg. 28

PositionVol. 49, 10 [Page 28]

49 Colo.Law. 28

What is OSINT?

Vol. 49, No. 10 [Page 28]

Colorado Lawyer

November, 2020



Information, some say, is the new oil. Like oil in the early days of the oil boom, important personal and commercial information lies just below the internet's surface. The art and science of finding that information even has a name: Open Source Intelligence (OSINT).

While a few online information sources are relatively well-known (e.g., Facebook), the OSINT analyst goes well beyond these deposits, drilling deeper into the vast reserves of information available on every person, company, and organization.

OSINT isn't "hacking." Trained OSINT analysts never intrude into secure realms to locate information; they steal no passwords and breach no firewalls. Instead, they use advanced search techniques and honed research skills to find information hiding in plain sight—information that's freely available to anyone who knows where and how to look[1]

Lawyers and other legal professionals may be interested to learn OSINT's many uses. This article discusses the science of OSINT and provides an overview of its application within the legal field.

The Staggering Amount of Publicly Available Information

OSINT analysis can reveal a wealth of detail about individual or corporate targets—likely much more information than the target knew or wanted to be publicly available. Using just the first and last name of a person as a starting point, an OSINT analyst dives deep into the available online information for that subject. Through this search, the analyst may identify data points ranging from the subject's mother's maiden name to vehicle VIN to covert social media accounts. The flowchart shows how one basic piece of information can lead to personal details very quickly.

OSINT research can also lead to intelligence about companies, such as working copies of financial details in Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations detailing company products, building blueprints, proprietary code shared online, or internal memos in PDF format. The amount of proprietary information accidentally posted or left online is astonishing.

Use in the Legal Field

For legal professionals, OSINT may be the key factor in the outcome of a case. Below is a broad overview of some of the most common law-related applications.

Identifying Key Players

OSINT analysts can help...

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