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IWD 2024: Reflections on professional growth in OSINT
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

Have you ever heard people say, "if you know, you know; and if you don't, you don't"? OSINT is kind of like that. 

I can't imagine how the concept of open-source intelligence (OSINT) would have ever crossed my radar before I started working at ShadowDragon in early 2019. Armed with a background in real estate law but seeking a career outside the legal sector, I had little experience in computer science. Given how traditionally male-dominated the field of technology is, I knew I was going to face unique challenges and opportunities that would ultimately shape my journey. 

But once I started diving into the many acronyms that make up my world now – API (application programming interface), PAI (publicly available information), etc. - I couldn't believe how much I didn't know.

Five years into my career in the OSINT industry, I find myself reflecting on the type of investigative work that is conducted using data derived from the internet and things I wish every person knew.

What should people know about open-source intelligence?
Open-source intelligence (OSINT) has emerged as a powerful tool that allows individuals and organizations to gather information from publicly available sources. This information can be leveraged by both the public and private sectors to make informed decisions, identify potential threats and conduct investigations. In other words, OSINT is reshaping the way organizations tackle modern-day challenges, unearthing hidden insights and attributing actions to their sources. 

As I delved deeper into my role, I learned that social media posts and profiles could be leveraged for investigative work, where I had primarily used these platforms to connect with family and friends from college or keep tabs on my local community. While I still view social media as a place to share photos of my dog or interesting meals that I eat, I quickly realized that these posts are all data points that can be leveraged to gain insight into a person. 

Even for those who prioritize online, operational security, we all have an online presence if we interact with the internet.

What is it like working in OSINT when you're not a full-time investigator?
The best part of my job has been working with our customers, individuals and organizations tackling modern-day problems that are often criminal and harmful in nature, and they are very candid about the way ShadowDragon's digital investigation tools help them unmask malevolent actors. More specifically, these capabilities have helped our customers attribute bad actors that are orchestrating crimes, like massive credit card fraud, trafficking harmful opioids, creating child sexual abuse materials (CSAM), threatening acts of physical violence and more. 

Throughout my journey as a woman in the OSINT industry, I've also found that diversity and inclusion are crucial in driving innovation and problem-solving. By bringing diverse perspectives and experiences to the table, we can better address the complexities and challenges we face in the field.

The Bottom Line
What started as a venture into unfamiliar terrain has transformed into a deep appreciation for the transformative power of OSINT. In an era where online interactions are ubiquitous, it has become an indispensable tool for navigating the complexities of our digital world and safeguarding against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats. Social media, for instance, was once a space for personal expression, but it is now a crucial battlefield for investigators, and each data point contributes to the bigger picture. As we continue to harness the capabilities of OSINT, we pave the way for a more secure and informed future.

Finally, I think it's important to talk about the opportunity that women have to make a meaningful impact and thrive in this dynamic field. At ShadowDragon, we believe that, with a few ground rules and a good understanding of investigative fundamentals, anyone can get involved in OSINT. There are many exciting opportunities for any individual who is passionate about leveraging OSINT for good.