The amount of data regularly logged onto the internet is astonishing. Searchable online data quantities are enormous, plus there is even more data on unindexed servers and the dark web. Understanding how to search and gather publicly accessible online data—open-source information—is crucial, particularly for law enforcement agencies. Even more critical is the acquisition of open-source intelligence (OSINT) from the accurate and effective analysis of this data.
Evolving online technologies have cultivated technically sophisticated criminal activities or cybercrime. The borderless structure of the internet enables cybercriminals to develop transnational cyber crimes such as the illegal movement of drugs, stolen goods, cash, firearms, identities, and humans.
Cybercrimes present law enforcement agencies (LEAs) with new and increasingly difficult crime prevention challenges. In light of these challenges, LEAs must take full advantage of OSINT’s potential. They can do this by employing highly skilled and educated business intelligence analysts who have robust OSINT tools.
Open-Source Intelligence for Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs)
Successful law enforcement operations rely on law enforcement officials’ abilities to access and analyze reliable and relatable intelligence. Vitally, time is of the essence, so the data gathered remains actionable. As an enhancement to traditional informational sources and investigative techniques, OSINT tools provide a valuable methodology by which LEAs’ BI divisions and analysts can access, gather, analyze, and act on useful information.
“Open-source” specifically refers to information that is accessible to the public. If any specialized techniques, tools, or skills are needed to access any part of the data, it is not considered open-source.
Major online search engines are commonly used to uncover open-source information, but social media is also rife with personal data and online histories. The following data is also considered to be open-source:
- Freely available to the public by request
- Freely available at a public meeting
- Freely available at public events or places
- Broadcast or published for a public audience
- Publicly available by purchase or subscription
- Heard or viewed by any member of the public
OSINT Solutions for Law Enforcement
The use of open-source intelligence tools in law enforcement has grown rapidly to meet the demand for more effective means of cybercrime prevention and investigation. As a critical part of investigative support, open-source information can:
- Discover suspects’ background and contact information
- Determine recent and historical online activities of victims and suspects
- Identify criminal patterns and trends
- Identify potential suspects and associates
Examples of Using OSINT in LEA’s BI Divisions
In 2016, after a man drove a car into a group of people in Columbus, Ohio, and began slashing bystanders with a knife, police fatally shot him. Authorities working to identify the man partnered with homeland security at the local, state, and federal levels to share information. The suspect’s possible name was sent to the Strategic Analysis and Information Center in Ohio, where an analyst successfully used open-source analysis to locate the suspect’s Facebook page.
Law enforcement BI divisions and their analysts face several obstacles when investigating the online activities of extremists. The enormous scale of the accessible web and its more buried counterparts is but one example.
How Business Intelligence Analysts Fit Into LEAs
The business intelligence analyst in a law enforcement agency is crucial for their effective and successful planning, information and intelligence analysis, and investigative activities. Business intelligence analysts conduct in-depth analyses of open-sourced and other information, including surveillance, intelligence networks, and geographic information systems.
BI analysts are responsible for preparing reports and working collaboratively with other intelligence organizations. They are often tasked with tackling organized criminal group activities, including national security threats and narcotics trafficking.
Through education and career training, BI analysts are increasingly required to have expertise in numerous manual and digital tools to carry out their role in LEA’s intelligence divisions effectively. With their increased reliance on the vast amount of online information, BI analysts must have the skills to utilize and optimize OSINT analysis tools. These include numerous types of digital software, such as:
- Data visualization software
- Statistical analysis software
- Telephone analysis software
- Encryption software
BI professionals need to have mastered open-source intelligence methodology and leading analytics instruments, tools, and techniques for open-source investigations.
Benefits of BI Analysts in LEAs
The effective use of intelligence analysis is critical to a law enforcement agency’s ability to combat organized crime.
- Effective Management of Information
Intelligence analysis provides an LEA with the knowledge required for effective management of its informational resources.
- Successful Completion of Criminal Investigations
Business intelligence analysis of open-source information can be valuable in successfully launching, carrying out, and completing criminal investigations. LEAs can use this analysis to identify suspects, discover pertinent evidence, and find potential witnesses of criminal-related activities.
- Enhance Growth and Functionality of LEA’s BI Divisions
The growth and functionality of an LEA’s BI division are vastly enhanced by its professional investigators’ open-source information intelligence skills. When information and intelligence flow quickly, accurately, and smoothly within an LEA’s BI division, criminal investigations are completed more quickly and accurately. These outcomes can lead to improved public safety and public trust and confidence in general law enforcement.
Business Intelligence Analytics Practices
BI professionals understand the difference between information and intelligence. Information is any type of raw data, while intelligence is data to which analysts have applied work. The following practices can assist analytic law enforcement personnel in assessing open-source information:
- Evaluation of the content’s relevance to the threat and assess the threat’s associated potential risk and significance.
- Evaluation of the validity of the content and the reliability of sources utilized.
- Assessment of the open-source information against reporting information about the open threat.
- Comparative analysis of the open-source information against appropriate law enforcement indicators as determined by the inherent suspicion level.
There are two main categories of open-source intelligence which business intelligence analysts are responsible for:
- Open-source intelligence: all the publicly accessible information that has been discovered and filtered to meet the specific needs of criminal investigations
- Validated open-source intelligence (OSINT-V): This type of OSINT has been verified as highly reliable. Analysts must be aware of online activities that purposely spread inaccurate OSINT to mislead intelligence analysis.
Business intelligence analysts also learn to optimize and analyze other intelligence subtypes. Intelligence from closed sources is regularly used to filter and verify open-source intelligence. These include:
- Internal telemetry
- Closed dark web communities
- External intelligence-sharing communities
The outcomes of intelligence analysis—typically far-reaching decisions—can assist in developing strategic plans to meet both current and future investigative challenges.
The Importance for BI Professionals to Gain OSINT Skills Today
As LEAs pursue innovative new ways to prevent cyber and other crime, those involved in law enforcement intelligence activities must have a clear understanding of the nature of OSINT. Due to the increasing use of OSINT methodologies in law enforcement, LEAs’ Business Intelligence (BI) divisions must seek up-to-date OSINT education. This education will enhance existing and future business intelligence careers.
In a law enforcement environment, intelligence analysts require relevant hands-on experience, intellectual expertise, and training gained through education to perform their jobs effectively. BI divisions and BI analysts must understand how OSINT tools can be put to use, their scope, and their limitations.
Implementing a clear framework and following a focused strategy for open-source intelligence gathering is crucial to avoid burnout. LEA BI analysts also require a deep understanding of the sophisticated and complex nature of current-day cyber threats.
Business Intelligence Career Paths For Analysts
To counter ongoing online terrorist and other criminal activities, business intelligence professionals need continuous training to conduct successful investigations. According to the latest data, 74% of those working in this field hold a four-year bachelor’s degree, and 13% have earned a master’s degree.
There are numerous career options for those wishing to work in criminal intelligence. Some of these include:
- Anti-Terrorist Analyst
- Crime and Intelligence Analyst
- Criminal Intelligence Specialist
- Intelligence Research Specialist
- Police Crime and Intelligence Analyst
- Investigative Research Specialist
The median wage for this career in 2020 was $86,940. Job growth between 2019 and 2029 is projected to be 1–2%, which is less than the national average of all occupations. In 2019, there were 113,500 people employed in these occupational fields.
Like many professions, intelligence analysts who work in LEAs require continuing OSINT education and professional development. Courses help to maintain competitiveness and professional standing in this evolving field. Analysts’ continuing education may focus on topics such as:
- Dynamic analytical methods and tradecraft
- Investigative and analytic techniques
- Evolving analytical software and tools
- Law enforcement trends, criminal groups, and crimes
- Supervision and management
- Recent regulations and statutes, including privacy rules
Graduates of many undergraduate and master’s degree programs will gain a thorough understanding of the following:
- The relationship between law enforcement and the intelligence community and how its potential can be optimized
- How to utilize information sharing
- The intelligence cycle
- Conducting research in the field legally and ethically
- Collecting, querying, and managing data using cutting-edge computer software
- Intelligence analysis results reporting to professional and lay audiences
Criminal investigations often rely on collaboration with local, state, and federal organizations. Ongoing education is an ideal situation for analysts to network and build valuable relationships with other analysts.
Industry Knowledge to Boost Your BI Career
BI professionals who become familiar with how best to utilize industry leaders’ technologies and instruments, such as IBM i2, Maltego, and Social Links, will build a competitive resume for developing a career with LEAs. Official training from LEA officials and professional or governmental certification will further solidify demand for your OSINT skills.
The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL) provides online OSINT training, including a course entitled Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) and IT Solutions. Another online OSINT training option is available through the SANS Institute through the course Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) Gathering and Analysis.
Building a competitive intelligence analyst career in the LEA industry relies on mastering the understanding and optimization of OSINT skills and techniques. If you want to develop a successful investigative career, ensure that you acquire and update new skills to remain in demand and in the know.
Visit our Training and education page to see the webinars and events that will delve you to open-source technologies and practices by Social Links and other OSINT professionals.