OSINT – Open source intelligence for research actors

Universities and research organisations are exposed to unintentional knowledge leakage in many forms. In addition to the human transfer of information, the access of unauthorized third parties by means of technical measures poses a high risk. This is where OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) comes into play.

OSINT report November 2023

The OSINT report highlights potential vulnerabilities in the knowledge security systems of academic institutions. DLR Projektträger commissioned an Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) application to demonstrate its use for academic entities. In this study, two facilities were analyzed by the Fraunhofer Learning Laboratory for Cybersecurity at Mittweida University of Applied Sciences. Both institutions were chosen as among the best-positioned in Europe regarding IT security.

We used open source intelligence to determine all publicly available information about the institutions, their employees and technical infrastructure, which could be used by attackers to damage the institution.

As a result, vulnerabilities were identified in both institutions. They promptly responded to the findings and resolved the issues. This emphasizes that institutions should not only protect themselves from outside threats but also keep a close eye on and safeguard sensitive information that could be at risk across various parts of the internet.

What is OSINT?


OSINT illustration


Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) collect, process, and analyze publicly available information from sources such as Social Media, News sites & Press, Blogs & Forums, Grey Literature, and the Deep web.

Safeguarding-Science.eu supports European stakeholders in securing research, research infrastructures and research results. So far, little attention has been paid to the “self-protection” component. Careful handling of one’s own internet use can prevent unwanted access by third parties.

OSINT refers to the practice of collecting, analysing, and interpreting information that is freely available in the public domain. The objective of OSINT is to gather information from a variety of publicly available sources to provide valuable insights that can be used in decision-making processes.

The benefits of OSINT

OSINT can help identify and monitor potential threats and risks in various areas such as cybersecurity, business, and politics. This knowledge provides the opportunity to take appropriate measures to establish an optimized knowledge security system in the future.

When searching for security-relevant vulnerabilities and risks in international research cooperation, OSINT tools can be used to look for vulnerabilities and threats in specific systems or applications. This can help to take defensive measures before an attack occurs. By using OSINT techniques, IT teams can gather valuable information to increase IT awareness within the company, institution or university, and scientific facilities.

Which areas are covered by OSINT analysis?

The following questions are considered as part of an OSINT analysis:

  • What specific vulnerabilities/security gaps can be identified?
  • How can vulnerabilities be identified independently by the institution within the framework of OSINT/how can the institution check itself and what tools would be necessary for this?
  • Can patterns be identified in the context of security leaks found, e.g., in terms of known entry points?
  • How could an OSINT monitoring system in the scientific institutions look like that offers the respective institution a security-relevant added value?