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What Is Open-Source Intelligence and Why Is It Important?

The Internet is packed with different types of data and intelligence that can be used for a variety of purposes. Open-source intelligence is the most widely used type of intelligence that has both a positive and a negative application in the world of cybersecurity. As much as this type of intelligence can help security teams strengthen their defense systems, it can also help the other side execute attacks. With that said, it is important to understand what open-source intelligence is and why is it so important.

What Is Open-Source Intelligence

Most simply put, open-source intelligence, or OSINT for short can be described as intelligence that is derived from data available to the general public. In other words, open-source intelligence is anything you can find on Google or other search engines. Thus, open-source intelligence is completely free to access and use, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Anyone can get their hands-on intelligence that is drawn from publicly available material. This makes open-source data intelligence a budget-friendly tool for security teams that conduct ethical hacking, which we will refer to in a bit. For now, it is important to differentiate open-source intelligence from other types of intelligence available out there.

For instance, any information that cannot be obtained without using special tools and techniques can’t be considered open-source intelligence. However, OSINT is not limited to information you find on Google. In fact, Google is not even the largest source of open-source intelligence since a huge proportion of data available on the internet cannot be found using major search engines.

In other words, lots of open-source intelligence can be found in the deep web, that is, the mass of websites and databases that are not indexed by Google. Even though it is not literally at your fingertips, the type of data found on the deep web is still considered open-source intelligence because it is publicly available for free.

How Is Open-Source Intelligence Used?

Open-source intelligence is commonly used in cybersecurity for two reasons:

#1 Ethical Hacking

Ethical hacking refers to using hacking methods to breach through a secure network or replicate a cybersecurity attack. Experts who conduct ethical hacking are authorized to test the security systems by using the same methods cybercriminals are using to initiate threats. That way, security experts can assess how well their network is protected by duplicating common strategies, also known as “penetration testing.”

#2 Identifying External Threats

Secondly, open-source intelligence is commonly used to identify external threats and spot vulnerabilities within a network or system of devices. OSINT can serve as a great source of insight when it comes to detecting potential causes of upcoming security breaches. Thanks to open-source intelligence, security teams can prioritize different metrics and focus on the right threats at the right time. Moreover, open-source intelligence is often combined with other types of intelligence from closed sources (dark web communities) to aid the process of threat identification.

The Downside of Open-Source Intelligence

As much as open-source intelligence can positively affect security development, it also has a downside. Namely, since OSINT is free and readily available to security experts, it is available in the same way to the other side, that is, the cybercriminals.

Hackers can use open-source intelligence to identify potential targets and find weaknesses in systems and organizations. With this information, they can narrow down their choices and find the most profitable target in less time. Thus, OSINT is truly both a blessing and a curse in the world of cybersecurity.


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