Insurance fraud is an increasing threat across all lines of business. When fraud is detected, investigations play a crucial role in gathering evidence needed to fight the fraud. This is a specialised skill set. Here, our Insight Manager, Megan Llewellyn, explains what the Insights Team within Crawford Legal Services does on a daily basis.
In my line of work, I am often asked what “OSINT” is, which is closely followed by requests to define a process for it.
The first question is easy to answer. Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is the location of publicly available intelligence. This is usually through internet based sources which present an analyst with endless opportunities for the collection of information. Broadly speaking OSINT and Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT) can be considered as separate things but for the purposes of this article I have combined the two. Keep an eye out for my next article, coming soon, which will look at more on SOCMINT as its own intelligence source and research discipline.
OSINT can be performed on an individual, business, item or organisation.
The second request isn’t so easy!
Obviously, the internet is a vast landscape. When it comes to trying to describe what it’s possible to find when conducting OSINT and the process for it, I liken it to trying to find a grain of sand in the Sahara desert.
As an OSINT investigator I have honed my craft. I have been trained; I have trained others and I have developed a personal process that I intuitively use when I am investigating OSINT. But what is it? And how do I explain it?
OSINT isn’t a tool, a program or a script that you use. Yes, there are certain tools available that can assist with OSINT investigations, but if they were taken away, I could still conduct the investigations. I would still have a research direction and I know that the intelligence would still be hiding somewhere. If the tools were taken away I would simply have to change my method of how I go about finding them.
This is why OSINT is less of a process and more of a mindset. Perhaps it’s best described as simply experience and expertise, or wisdom of experience in knowing what to look for and where to look. There is no checklist necessarily. And there is no checklist I could hand to an untrained person and expect them to come up with the results of a properly qualified, experienced and trained individual. This, in a way, makes it not dissimilar to many professions. What I can categorically tell you is that OSINT requires critical and creative thinking, and discipline to stay focused and aware of your intelligence gathering.
With the OSINT mindset in place, I utilise the Intelligence Cycle to conduct investigations and compile a report with useable intelligence. The intelligence cycle is the closest thing you will get to an OSINT Process.
One of the most important parts of OSINT investigations is the direction which is the first step of the intelligence cycle. Asking “what is the purposes of my investigation?”, and knowing what questions am I trying to answer is fundamental. Choosing the right path begins here, knowing your starting point and what you have available to work with and therefore what steps can you take and sources that would be best used.
Avoiding personal bias is a difficult element of an investigation but is another key component. Personal bias would lead me to a comfortable path, the easiest route or linear process. I wouldn’t be thinking about the purpose of my investigation, and this could influence how I conduct my investigation.
OSINT investigators will often be asked to ‘find information on’ something/someone etc. This is far too wide a request. If you want useful intelligence you need to consider:
- What is your research subject? – Make this an answerable question, for example, “Background information on John Smith” is not an answerable question. Be specific, “Has John Smith got a background in location ‘X’ or with identifiable information ‘Y’”.
- Who is our client and who is our subject? – They are usually opposing sides but this is not always the case.
- Clearly define the main research question, and this can include a subset of questions – in the simplest terms define the Who, What, When, Where, Why, How within your research questions.
Using the simple starting process will enable an OSINT investigator to choose the sources that they wish to interrogate for the intelligence, gather any keyword or Boolean searches, and pick the OSINT tools that might be needed to conduct the investigation.
By providing the direction and the questions the OSINT investigator can pick their most effective tools. It will enable a far more efficient and effective investigation – even without a documented process in sight!