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Is OSINT Legal?

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Cybertrace Team

May 30, 2024 · 6 min read

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Cyber Intelligence graphic depicting Open Source Investigations legalities

Yes, OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) is legal. It involves gathering information that is freely available from public sources, such as social media, news articles, press conferences, reports, books, and other openly accessible materials. Since this information is publicly available and does not involve breaching any private or secured data systems, the practice of OSINT itself is not illegal. But, cybercriminals can legally collect this data without directly engaging with the target or triggering any security measures.

What is the Legislation for OSINT?

Legislation in Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is primarily governed by existing privacy, cybercrime, and national security laws. While there is no dedicated legislation for OSINT in Australia, various legal frameworks provide guidelines and restrictions that OSINT practitioners must navigate.

Privacy and Surveillance Laws

The primary legislation governing surveillance and data collection is the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 and the Surveillance Devices Act 2004. These laws regulate how and when Australian agencies can intercept and access communications. For OSINT, which primarily deals with publicly available information, these laws are less restrictive but still relevant when considering privacy and the legality of data use.

Cybercrime Legislation

The Criminal Code Act 1995 includes provisions that address cybercrime and unauthorised access to computer systems, which could impact how OSINT operations are conducted, especially when dealing with digital footprints and online data collection.

National Security Framework

OSINT activities fall under the broader national security umbrella. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 provides the framework for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which uses OSINT alongside other intelligence types. While there is no specific legislation for OSINT, these activities are often guided by principles and practices developed within this broader security context​. 

Data Handling and Sharing

The Privacy Act 1988 regulates the handling of personal information by government agencies and private sector organisations. OSINT practitioners must ensure compliance with these regulations, particularly when collecting, analysing, and sharing data that includes personal information.

What is OSINT for Cyber Security?

Cyber security digital Intelligence OSINT abstract graphic

OSINT in cybersecurity involves gathering open-source information about individuals, organisations, or systems to assess their security posture, identify potential vulnerabilities, and understand potential threats. This information can be used to strengthen defensive measures, anticipate and prevent attacks, and gather intelligence on potential attackers and their tactics.

Enhancing Organisational Cybersecurity

OSINT can be utilised by organisations not only for defensive purposes but also to strengthen their own cybersecurity measures.

Identifying Vulnerabilities

OSINT helps in building a profile of an organisation or individual, enabling the identification of potential security weaknesses and areas of exposure.

Developing Defensive Strategies

Gathering information from public sources, security teams can develop more robust defensive measures and strategies to mitigate potential threats.

Countering Social Engineering Attacks

OSINT assists in understanding the information available about an organisation or individual online, aiding in the prevention and detection of social engineering attacks, such as phishing.

Profiling Potential Attackers

Organisations can use OSINT to gather intelligence about potential threats, including profiling attackers, understanding their tactics, and identifying their targets. This information helps in anticipating and defending against cyberattacks effectively.

Related Topic: Why Background Checks are Superior with OSINT

What is the Dark Side of OSINT?

Dark side of intelligence Open eye digital illustration for OSINT

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) offers valuable tools for cybersecurity professionals investigating potential threats. However, its capabilities can also be misused for malicious purposes. With great power comes great responsibility, just as Uncle Ben famously said in Spiderman.

Here are examples of the dark side of OSINT:

Cybercrime and Fraud

OSINT provides cybercriminals with valuable information for conducting fraudulent activities such as phishing, identity theft, and ransomware attacks. By gathering personal data from social media profiles and online activities, hackers tailor their attacks to exploit vulnerabilities and avoid detection.

Misinformation and Propaganda

OSINT can be exploited to spread misinformation and propaganda through various means such as bots, fake news, and deep fakes. These disinformation campaigns manipulate public opinion, sow division, and influence elections

Cyberbullying

With easy access to personal information online, cyberbullies can use OSINT to blackmail, harass, and emotionally distress their victims, leading to serious psychological consequences.

Privacy Invasion

OSINT’s unrestricted access to vast amounts of information can lead to serious political, economic, and diplomatic complications.

Related Topic: Is the Dark Web a Dangerous Place?

How is OSINT Used by Hackers?

A hacker uses OSINT to gather personal information with phishing and social engineering

Hackers use Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) to gather publicly available data about their targets, including personal information, organisational vulnerabilities, and technological infrastructure. This information aids in crafting tailored attacks such as phishing emails, social engineering tactics, and ransomware schemes. OSINT provides hackers with easy access to a wealth of data without the legal restrictions of other online sources, enabling them to exploit weaknesses in target organisations’ security measures and gain unauthorised access to sensitive information.

How Powerful is OSINT?

OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) is powerful due to its ability to gather comprehensive and timely information from publicly available sources such as social media, news articles, and public records. It is cost-effective and accessible, allowing organisations and individuals to monitor events, identify vulnerabilities, and understand threats without breaching legal boundaries. OSINT’s versatility makes it valuable across fields like national security, corporate intelligence, and cybersecurity, helping develop defensive strategies, anticipate attacks, and make informed decisions.

One important aspect to consider is that Cybertrace employs OSINT extensively within its investigations. While OSINT proves valuable, Cybertrace supplements its efforts with access to closed-source datasets exclusive to private investigators. So, this combined approach strengthens their investigative capabilities, ensuring comprehensive and thorough analyses in cybersecurity and other areas.

Summary

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) operates within legal bounds, sourcing data from public platforms like social media and news articles. 

While Australia lacks specific OSINT legislation, existing laws on privacy, cybercrime, and national security offer guidance. OSINT enhances cybersecurity efforts by strengthening defences, spotting vulnerabilities, and countering social engineering threats. 

However, misuse can fuel cybercrime, misinformation, cyberbullying, and privacy breaches. Nonetheless, OSINT remains a potent tool, providing timely insights essential for informed decision-making.

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Question For The Readers 

Do you consider OSINT a positive or negative technological development? What’s your opinion?

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