By Cynthia Hetherington

Do you have laser-like focus? Are you effective in communicating with clients? Diving deep to find the needle in that haystack? Able to absorb volumes of information, discern the facts, and write them in an orderly fashion? Does the old adage, “God gave us one mouth and two ears” speak to you? These are all traits required of a successful investigator. Before you set to work on any cyber investigation, you may need to learn how to CRAWL: Communicate, Research, Analyze, Write, and Listen.

CRAWL allows investigators to implement a foundational approach for receiving new projects, reporting their findings, and transcending their competitors in customer-service response. Good investigators say that research is the most important step. Successful investigators say that analysis and good report writing can be very profitable. Great investigators know it is all in communicating with their clients, with an emphasis on listening. A solid investigator who is profitable, well-respected, and seeking steady work needs all five components.

Veteran investigators know that there are specialists in certain fields of research. Some fields of specialization are arson, surveillance, business backgrounds, organized crime, matrimonial, defense, and legal. As varied as these fields are, these experts all utilize the fundamentals of CRAWLing. CRAWLing demands skills beyond the investigator’s specialization.

CRAWLing is the business model for investigators, just as the scientific method is a constant for scientists.

Without a fundamental application of the principles of CRAWL, an investigator may have a short career, because she or he will not see return business, will become frustrated over inconsistent reports, and will not understand why the phone is not ringing. In this 6-part blog series, I will teach newbies how to CRAWL and help seasoned investigators refine their skills. Last week, in Part 2, we discussed the logistics of communicating. This week we discuss the importance of research.

Introduction to Research

The English word “research” has its origins in the Middle French, “recherche,” “to go about seeking.” The words dates back to first use in 1577. When an investigator go about seeking, it is to achieve an answer to a client query. Hampshire College provides the following definition for research:

Research is a process of systematic inquiry that entails collection of data; documentation of critical information; and analysis and interpretation of that data/information, in accordance with suitable methodologies set by specific professional fields and academic disciplines.

In our field, investigative research is the task undertaken by an investigator, analyst or researcher to locate information that creates, supports, or makes his case. During the initial  interview with your client, you will come to understand the nature of your project and determine what type of investigation is required to meet your client’s needs. Here, I describe four types of investigations:

  • Investigative Due Diligence
  • Competitive Intelligence
  • Background Research
  • Online Intelligence

Investigative Due Diligence is conducted for projects such as mergers and acquisitions, pre-acquisition, vendor or supply alliances, or any type of corporate background that requires you to know everything about a certain company, including its principals and the factors that affect its products.

Competitive Intelligence, sometimes called business or competitor intelligence, is investigative due diligence with an emphasis on the future. The goal of competitive intelligence is usually either to gather data so a company can learn about its competition or to help a company bring a new product to the market place. Much of the investigation is a strategic examination of strengths, weaknesses, product offerings, pricing, markets served, prospects, suppliers, distributors, and competitors. You also could conduct traditional research and make some analytical predictions based on your knowledge of the companies, the market, and the facts as you understand them.

Background Research encompasses many fields such as pre-employment verification and market research. It is broader in scope and usually entails an examination of several companies or persons to achieve a reliable understanding and deliver a thorough report to your client.

Online Investigations include Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and Dark Web Intelligence. OSINT entails researching overt, publicly available sources on the internet, including but not limited to newsrooms, chat boards, social media platforms, RSS feeds, public records, personal websites, and other internet protocols. The scope of dark web investigations often concerns criminality, anonymity, counterfeit products, child pornography, and human trafficking in dark web channels.

Watch for Imponderables

The specific type of investigation will give you a sense of the kinds of deliverables the client is expecting, the services you will need to enlist to perform your research, and the approximate amount of time it will take. However, be prepared for a bump in the road on time management. For example, if you are working on foreign corporate research, check a calendar from that country to ensure that there are no unforeseen holidays and days off. If you are unaware whether government buildings are closed will likely make you look unprepared for a rush assignment.

Be sure to check back next week, when I discuss Analysis!

Are you an analyst or investigator looking for introductory training on conducting OSINT investigations? If so, check out Hg’s August special webinar training package: Online Social Media Primer Series.  This introductory primer series will teach you why to use these platforms, how to get into them, where to look, what nuances and leads you need to chase down, and how they are all interrelated. We’ll also discuss how to capture content per service, so you can present it in your reports.


With over twenty-five years of global experience in open source investigations and one of the first investigative firms to conduct online social media investigations, Hetherington Group develops advanced cyber investigations unique to your needs. Learn how Hg’s analysts can clear through jargon and uncover answers buried deep in open sources, social media pages, and Dark Web sites.


Cynthia Hetherington, MLS, MSM, CFE, CII is the founder and president of Hetherington Group, a consulting, publishing, and training firm that leads in due diligence, corporate intelligence, and cyber investigations by keeping pace with the latest security threats and assessments. She has authored three books on how to conduct investigations, is the publisher of the newsletter, Data2know: Internet and Online Intelligence, and annually trains thousands of investigators, security professionals, attorneys, accountants, auditors, military intelligence professionals, and federal, state, and local agencies on best practices in the public and private sectors.