Pentesters have to work with large amounts of information. Finding this information can be done manually – that’s Option A. But this can be time-consuming since you’d have to sort this data by yourself because it might not be in a preferable format. Option B relies on open-source intelligence, or OSINT, which is the go-to method for most Penetration Testers off late.
Take Google Maps or even its Search Engine – the intelligence community refers to such publicly available sources of information as Open–Source Intelligence (OSINT). Tools that simplify OSINT gathering are powerful for Penetration Testing as they speed up and simplify workflow. However, it is ideal for a Penetration Tester to go through a Certification Program like EC-Council’s Certified Security Analyst (ECSA) Program before acquiring any of these tools. ECSA guarantees a thorough understanding of what OSINT is and how it is used in penetration testing.
What is Open-Source Intelligence?
According to the U.S. public law, open-source intelligence is –
- Publicly available data
- Collected and analyzed timely to a targeted audience
- Used in an intelligence context
The term “open” refers to overt, which means “publicly available.” It is different from open-source software. Majorly, the data is obtained through various search engines. But with the existence of “deep web,” which covers billions of websites, databases, files, login pages, and a variety of paywalls, the content is far beyond the reach of Google, Bing, Yahoo, or any other search engine.
A data to qualify for being open-source intelligence, it should be available –
- For public audience (for instance, news media content)
- On public demand (for example, survey data)
- By subscription or purchase (for example, industry journals)
- In plain sight for casual observers
It is indeed an unimaginable quantity of information that is rapidly growing, thus, making it a challenge to pace up with it. A security analyst must possess the required skills to deal with such a vast amount of data.
What is closed source intelligence?
Some intelligence collection is directly associated with sensitive data that can jeopardize the privacy of individuals involved. Closed source intelligence deals with private data, maintained and managed by the government, or is available through open enquires only. The intelligence only uses the data which is not publicly available.
Is open-source intelligence an ethical issue?
One of the primary traits of OSINT sources that they are legally available to public use and consuming them for intel does not breach any copyright or privacy laws. But it is a must that the organization using open–source intelligence should comply with all the applicable institutional standards.
3 Best Ways to Use Open-Source Intelligence
There are three major use cases of OSINT –
Open–source is a part of the ethical hacking process, especially the reconnaissance phase. Reconnaissance or preparatory phase is where ethical hackers collect information about their target before executing an attack. Well, certified ethical hackers use open–source intelligence to gather information about an organization or an individual. It helps in profiling the target.
Generally, an information security analyst examines an organization’s system and network for security gaps and vulnerabilities capable of leading to unauthorized access. As it is just a subset of ethical hacking, the professionals do not try to exploit the vulnerabilities. The process ensures that the existing weaknesses will be remediated before threat actors can take advantage of them. OSINT helps in identifying these five major weaknesses –
- Accidental data exposure
- Open ports or unsecured internet-connected devices
- Out of date software
- Websites using old versions of CMS products
- Data leaks
A penetration tester ensures that the organization won’t suffer at the hands of cybercriminals.
Listen to Online Chatter for Intel
OSINT helps in identifying external threats by intercepting the “chatter” of cybercriminals from different publicly available sources. The professionals closely monitor open conversations on social media channels, forums, and other online platforms to identify the next target. For instance, several perpetrators like to brag before launching an attack. With the use of OSINT, security analysts can stop potential cyberattacks beforehand.
Using this intelligence, security professionals can prioritize and eliminate the existing vulnerabilities of their organizations. To do so, the experts identify and correlate multiple data points for validating a genuine threat. For example, a warning post on social media platforms regarding upcoming cyber-attacks could be ignored, but what if it is a pattern of a known threat group. For such data, InfoSec analysts need OSINT.
Note: Open-source intelligence is often combined with other intelligence forms for better results.
Who uses OSINT?
Professionals from national security and law enforcement are the primary consumers of OSINT. Apart from that, security analysts use it to retrieve data for addressing classified as well as unclassified intel requirements.
What is Open-Source Intelligence Tools?
There is a wide range of OSINT tools that help security analysts to carry out their responsibilities. One of the frequently used ones is Google – a search engine that reveals a lot than one can think of. Professionals also use Nmap in their OSINT strategy. Nmap is a popular network mapping tool that audits and discovers local and remote open network ports.
Open-source intelligence is beneficial for all security disciplines. Yet, it requires the right combination of tools and techniques to suit the requirements of an organization. Apart from that, the successful use of OSINT demands the presence of a clear strategy with set objectives.
To learn more about open-source intelligence methodology, join EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA). It is an online security certification that helps you gain comprehensive penetration testing skills. The program trains to identify different forms of known and unknown cyberattacks, such as Trojan, denial of service (DoS), or Distributed DoS (DDoS) attacks. Also, this is a holistic coverage of network security, database security, cloud security, information security, and other forms of penetration testing methodologies.
Don’t forget to check out our comprehensive library of free resources: Free Cybersecurity Learning Resources for Continuous Growth