OSINT, or open source intelligence, is a critical part of your overall understanding of your environment and the players within it. As we’ve already mentioned, if your intel isn’t actionable, then it’s not really intelligence; it’s information that needs to be processed.
Because OSINT is derived from publicly available information, it’s often misunderstood on two levels:
- People assume that OSINT involves anything you can find on the internet, as in “Google-fu.”
- People assume that if it “seems to fit,” it’s correct.
Credibility and accuracy are incredibly important in OSINT; just because someone “finds info” somewhere on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.
The “Eureka!” Pitfall
For those whose ‘function’ is finding information and processing it into something actionable (you ARE processing it, right?), there’s a certain bit of excitement that goes into finding the thing you’re looking for. That excitement, or the “EUREKA” effect, can sometimes cloud your judgment and allow you to miss things you should have included, or include things in your analysis that you should not have.
Let’s say, for instance, that your group is being overtly opposed by someone. It could be an AntiFa-style group, a local bunch of leftist thugs, or even a supposed fellow patriot. Your adversary’s political affiliation doesn’t matter for the purposes of this exercise; they’re simply your adversary. What matters is that you and your group are being targeted.
While in public they’re mostly just talking trash and attempting to ruin your reputation (thereby cutting your public support out — a necessary component of your operation), behind the scenes they’re engaged in all-out information war.
They’re creating sock puppet accounts and attributing them to you and your group members or families while having those accounts act badly. They’re digging into your life, looking for something to embarrass or leverage you with (or trying to create the embarrassing material themselves). They’re running around to your network contacts and attempting to undermine your influence or credibility.
It’s all very calculated and crafted, but there’s just one problem. They did sloppy homework. They got an idea, got excited, and went whole hog without pausing and thinking through their actions, or double-checking their information before including it in their assessment.
Some of the things they’ve attributed to you are quite obviously not yours. Some of the things they’ve written about you expose themselves instead. Some of the accusations they’ve made are laughable because they’re so beyond the pale. In fact, the entire effort might be so transparently desperate that you and your group members have a good chuckle about it…right before you decide to play ball yourselves.
What went wrong? If your adversary’s objective was to demoralize, embarrass, and render you ineffective, and they said/did all kinds of things to you, “exposing” information about you and trying so hard to characterize you as evil, why did their efforts fail?
Because sloppy, inaccurate work merely exposes the people being sloppy and inaccurate.
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The Importance of Accuracy
While a lot of people think of OSINT as being simply a paid background check on someone, or a deep dive into their Facebook page, that’s not even remotely it. OSINT covers a huge variety of topics and capabilities; the common thread is merely that the information is publicly available, or open source.
The fun part of OSINT is that just because something is publicly available doesn’t mean it’s easy to find, or that it will come up in a Google search. You need to put some effort into connecting the dots, researching information, and processing it correctly to reach the right assessment. Above all, you need to be accurate.
Now, let’s say that instead of simply doing some Googling and low-level trolling like your adversary did, you put some actual work in, and you guys adhered to the ‘rules’ and principles of OSINT collection and processing.
- Instead of playing with sock puppet accounts and running around the internet trying to make your adversary look bad, you found their home address and crosschecked it with county property tax records to find that they haven’t paid their property taxes in a bit, and it’s not the first time.
- Maybe you were able to find out the general ballpark of their income, and it doesn’t match what their home is worth.
- For instance, let’s say the loan they got for their home came from a “private individual,” but the amount was almost half a million dollars, and there’s no record of them anywhere else.
- Sometimes your adversary’s history does not match his claims whatsoever. In fact, the schools and position that he purports to have held or attended have no record of his presence.
- It could be your adversary is still in the military, LEO or some other government capacity, and you found out he’s still in, while actively lying about his function.
- Publicly available (but thought of as private) comments by your adversary online can also yield a wealth of information. For instance it can show that he is having financial issues, or making a living on the claims you can now prove are false. Maybe assets are under a different name, such as a spouse or maiden name, but because you did your due diligence you found those too.
- Your adversary’s associates are not the big badasses they like to claim on the internet. They also have information that can be exploited, like jobs, or the lack thereof, addresses, homes, income sources, and other contacts. The process can be repeated on them to yield more actionable intelligence.
If you properly document and process even just this short list of information points according to the intelligence cycle, what do you have? What kind of action could you take here? More importantly, who is in a better position in the overall conflict? Your adversary, with their fake accounts and forum posts and sneaky machinations? Or you, with your provable, actionable, wide-open courses of potential action?
If you’re going to put the hours in and work toward accuracy and “big picture” actionable information, you’re going to find yourself in a much more advantageous position against your adversaries, regardless of where they come from or what their capabilities are. You’ll also be able to more correctly assess if they’re an actual threat, or just an annoyance.
Warfare is not just guns and ammo and fighting in the woods. There is also an information war, a conflict of ideas and concepts and belief systems. In order to be good at it, you’ll need to learn how to correctly perform OSINT.
Here’s one place to start.