Techniques and Tutorials

Master The Fundamentals: Why OSINT Wizards Go Manual.

Welcome back, fellow OSINT explorers! In our last romp, we covered the core tenets of ethical, legal, and protective data gathering. But now it’s time for an equally critical lesson – why you need to get intimately familiar with doing much of the OSINT grind manually.

Yes, I know the shiny, automated tools are extremely seductive. With just a few clicks, you can hoover up all sorts of juicy data from the internet’s crevices. And AI is only making those capabilities more potent every day.

But becoming overly reliant on black box tools and skipping the fundamentals is a bit like being a self-driving car with no ability to take the wheel. When the robot uprising inevitably comes (I’m semi-kidding…maybe), you’ll be woefully unprepared to navigate on your own!

More pertinently, a lack of manual skillsets can undermine the credibility and reproducibility of your OSINT findings. And that’s obviously extremely counter to our principles around ethics and public trust that we covered previously.

OSINT: It’s a Craft, Not a Transaction

The core issue here is that OSINT, at its heart, is an investigative craft built on processes and techniques honed over decades. It simply isn’t a cut-and-dried transaction of punching requests into tools.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly value in leveraging automation to accelerate some of the more tedious aspects of data collection. And we’d be foolish not to capitalize on certain handy utilities that the tech world has bestowed upon us.

But using tools as a crutch, rather than an enhancing adjunct, is supremely risky for a serious OSINT practitioner. You ultimately want to stay as close to the source data and information flow as possible, fully understanding how it was acquired.

That means recognizing web data isn’t some easily packageable commodity. It’s scattered across disparate sites, made inconsistent by human inputs, and always shifting in structure. You need to become adept at manually collecting and structuring that data, often in bespoke ways tailored for each target.

 

Cloak and Dagger? More Like Google-Fu Mastery

When we envision old-school intelligence work, the romanticized image is one of concealed recorders, fake moustaches, and surveillance teams tailing targets through urban alleyways.

Modern OSINT could hardly be further from that cinematic depiction. Our muggle cloaks of anonymity are private browser sessions and VPNs. Our fedoras and spy cameras are clever Google hacks and URL filters.

The pre-eminent skills for the contemporary OSINT’er are things like:

  • Crafting hyper-specific queries and DORKS to strip-mine search engines.
  • Mastering browser extensions and scraping tools to gather info at scale.
  • Understanding fundamentals like coding languages, APIs, and database structures.
  • Reverse engineering websites and apps to expose data trails.
  • Employing inventive tactics like checking website code for un-linked files.
  • Tracing digital breadcrumbs across disparate sites and platforms.

You simply can’t rely on a tool to automate acquisition methods this specialized and dynamic. OSINT is a unique mix of inquisitiveness and technical skill craft that requires hands-on mastery.

Ultimately, it’s the combination of ingenuity and elbow grease that makes the most resourceful OSINT pro. A black belt in searchability who can cull valuable knowledge from the web’s endless labyrinths.

 

More Than Just Finding Stuff: Reproducing the Data Journey

Beyond simply sourcing data effectively, understanding the fundamentals allows you to recreate and validate your entire information journey from start to finish.

Think about how vital reproducibility is for fields like academic research or legal investigations. You can’t just say “I Googled some stuff and here’s what I found!” That would get laughed out of any reputable setting.

For true legitimacy and credibility, you need to rigorously document your processes and methods used to establish a clear evidence trail. Here’s the exact query syntax I used, here are the sites I pulled data from, here’s the parsing logic I employed to structure it all, etc. (I’ll no doubt talk a lot about the amazing Hunch.ly tool in later articles.)

This is doubly important when using automated tools that may obfuscate the collection workflow. As the ethical OSINT ethos goes, you should always be willing to reproduce and validate any of your findings on demand.

If you merely rely on tools that spit out datasets without letting you peer under the bonnet, how can you stand behind the integrity of that information? Not a good look for an industry trying to instil public confidence.

So, view documenting your work almost as important as doing the collection itself. It forces you to think methodically, sharpens your understanding of how the data was sourced, and could prove absolutely vital if you need to defend your findings down the road.

Taking the time to catalogue each fundamental step may seem arduous, but it’s a worthy habit to build accountability and reproducibility into the OSINT process.

 

Master of Your Own Internet Domain

At the end of the day, committing to learning and applying OSINT fundamentals is about retaining mastery in your own domain. You want to be the captain at the helm, not a powerless guest on a sightseeing cruise hoping the tech autopilot doesn’t malfunction.

Relying too heavily on tools distances you from the rich details and disparate sources that true OSINT nirvana is built upon. It also fosters complacency and a lack of methodological rigor that cuts against our principles.

So, by all means, leverage the plethora of amazing tools we have access to these days. But reserve them as complementary helpers that enhance your core tradecraft, not replacements for your hard-won skills.

Maintain that intimate, hands-on connection to the data. Stay grounded in those nitty-gritty competencies and processes. Always be able to recreate and reproduce your insightful findings.

That’s what will cement you as the rare OSINT artisan rather than a compact disc re-issue that will soon be antiquated.

Andy