Nine simple questions to help you choose an open-source intelligence (OSINT) training course
The growth of the internet has led to a proliferation of publicly available information – or opensource intelligence (OSINT) – that researchers and investigators can exploit.
Making the most of this data requires knowledge of a range of tools, techniques, and methodologies.
As a result, more and more people are interested in finding a training course where they can acquire this knowledge.
But courses vary hugely in quality. So how do you know if an OSINT course is any good?
The following are nine questions you can ask to guide your decision.
It is not a definitive list. Some questions will be more relevant to your particular project or needs. Some courses may score poorly on some of the questions and still be good.
But asking these questions should hopefully help you arrive at a better decision.
Evaluating an OSINT training course: Questions 1-3
Question 1: What type of OSINT are you interested in?
OSINT comes in many different forms.
Some courses will provide a general introduction to OSINT, some will focus on digital verification and geolocation, others will concentrate on automated extraction and web scraping.
Think about whether you need an overview or are interested in a specific set of techniques. Then look at the course content to see if it matches those needs.
Question 2: How detailed is the description of the course content?
If the course content isn’t described in any meaningful detail, this is often a bad sign.
Many training providers make bold promises about what the course will give you but neglect to provide any details on how they will deliver on those promises.
The very least you should expect is a clear outline of the structure.
Question 3: What is your budget?
This might be an obvious one, but it’s always worth deciding how much you are able to spend before you go shopping!
Evaluating an OSINT training course: Questions 4-6
Question 4: What tools do they use in the OSINT course?
If a course is using proprietary tools, ask whether you have access to them (e.g. through your employer) or are willing to pay for them.
Many courses will only use opensource tools. This obviously saves you money. But it may also lead to a more vibrant community of users who crowdsource solutions to technical problems.
In either case, check whether your system meets the technical requirements for the software.
Question 5: How steep is the learning curve?
Some OSINT techniques are relatively simple. Others may have a high entry barrier, such as familiarity with coding. Some courses may demand a certain level of competence or background knowledge before you sign up.
Ask whether you already have the skills or are willing to invest the time to acquire them.
Question 6: Can you access the OSINT training materials after the event?
When it comes to any kind of technical skill, it’s often a case of use it or lose it.
It’s all very well signing up for a training course, but if there’s a gap between the training and when you sit down to apply what you have learnt, or just a long gap since you last used a skill, you can easily forget the training.
If you are looking at a live course, ask what resources and reference material they provide for you to look at later.
If you are looking at an asynchronous course, ask how long you will have access to the material for.
You can also check whether and how regularly they update any reference material.
Do you have a project that could benefit from research support?
If you have a project that could benefit from language and research skills, subject-matter expertise and cross-sectoral experience, I offer a range of tailor-made research support services that can help you:
Data collection & fact checking
Analytic report writing
Editing & review
I can help you design and deliver rigorous research into Russian and Eurasian security and foreign policy issues.
Evaluating an OSINT training course: Questions 7-9
Question 7: Who is producing and selling the OSINT training?
Look for evidence that they can practice what they preach.
Do the trainers demonstrate relevant professional experience?
Can you access any of the OSINT analysis they have produced? Is it any good or similar to the type of work you are looking to produce?
Some providers may be well known, others may blog or podcast regularly. But you might as well start your OSINT journey by critically examining the credibility of the people who are trying to take your money.
Question 8: Can you find any student testimonials for the course?
Some training providers will post testimonials to their website from those who have taken their course.
These are marginally better than nothing, but are intended to sell the product – so treat with care!
Much more valuable are reviews where the provider is unable to filter out those that are unfavourable.
Search for the training on Google or your social media platform of choice to see if you can find anyone not affiliated with the course discussing its strengths and weaknesses.
Question 9: How good is the website of the OSINT training provider?
This is bottom of the list for a reason: On its own, it is not a good indicator of anything.
Some outstanding OSINT researchers seem to be pretty terrible when it comes to designing their own websites.
Nevertheless, a bad website might give you some clues.
If it clearly hasn’t been updated in a while, the same may be true of the course content.
If it is presented in a sloppy manner, it can suggest a lack of attention to the audience.
Some providers may also provide sample videos or material, which can help you decide whether the course is delivered in a way that you like.
Happy learning! If you have any additional suggestions of what to look for in a course, or you take a specific course and find it useful, let me know!