Today, law firms from both sides of the pond that operate in difficult markets such as Libya, Iran, and so on, still rely on publicly available data (or Open Source Research) alone for their due diligence.
It is understandable that open source intelligence gathering (OSINT) over the internet has gained in popularity as one of the staple tools for research for the busy analyst, as it been a simple-to-access but powerful tool designed for that very purpose. Want to quickly assess if a potential client is who he/she says they are or works for the company they say they do? No problem. How often have we heard the expression, “Google them”?
However, much has changed over the years, changes that have rendered this method of intelligence gathering no more useful than gauging a general direction before the real, more serious in-depth research is undertaken.
For example, when LinkedIn first became popular, people saw the tool as a free way to advertise their talents. Those with impressive CV’s began putting so much information “out there” that others felt the need to embellish their own perhaps lacklustre images or fail to get a look in. And LinkedIn has no verification method of ensuring the information provided by its users is correct. There are of course others that play on this very point, and the nicest thing that can be said about their LinkedIn page is that they are extremely creative.
Further, the European Parliament ruled not too long ago that individuals have a right to privacy where the internet is concerned. This ruling has played right into the hands of those who would profit by hiding their true nature, such as Russian oligarchs or other organized criminal gang members. Much of the media articles and blogs highlighting these types of individual have now been removed, and that ‘removal’ amounted to terabytes of information being deleted.
If these simple examples have not proved sufficient to highlight the weakness in relying on internet research, one needs only look at media articles on the same subject but covered by several different ‘reputable’ outlets to see how blurred the truth is now becoming – we are living in the age of fake news.
As a consequence, serious corporate intelligence companies, such as the KCS Group, headquartered in London, recognize there is still a need for this form of research, but that it must be viewed in context. It can still assist in steering research but can in no way negate the imperative for real in-depth research. Not recognizing open source research for what it has become can lead to extremely costly mistakes.