Obsidian: The All-in-One Documentation Powerhouse

What is Obsidian?

At its most basic, Obsidian is a documentation tool. You write your notes in it instead of a text editor, word processing tool, or even a MindMap.

The software is free for personal or educational use, and for companies with 1 employee. For those working in companies with 2 or more employees, the current cost per person, per year is $50 USD (https://obsidian.md/pricing).

You can download Obsidian at (https://obsidian.md).

Looking for training on “how to” do all these things I mention below? I have a training course at https://www.myosint.training/courses/osint-documentation-with-obsidian.

Why do I need Obsidian?

  • This tool helps record and reveal connections in your OSINT work
  • Built-in MindMap features
  • Built-in flow chart features
  • Built-in network graph for your notes
  • Built-in task management (to do items)
  • Embed images and files in your notes
  • Export data to PDFs
  • Use simple text characters (Markdown) to format your work (or us a WYSIWYG menubar like you might use in word processing tools)
  • Security – All files are saved locally to your system
  • Make your Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) document come alive by including it with your data

How do I get Obsidian?

Visit the https://obsidian.md/ page. There are links to downloads for Windows, macOS, Linux, mobile, and more.

Can I see some of the features in use?

Absolutely. Blogs can be a great resource but seeing the features of the tool in use can be invaluable.

  • Obsidian and OSINT: I conducted a 75 minute-long live stream (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKF37Ng4gaI) where I demonstrated how and why you might want to use Obsidian for OSINT. This uses the older version of Obsidian.
  • Obsidian from the very beginning: If you want to learn Obsidian use from one of the best, take a look at Nick Milo’s “Linking Your Thinking” (LYT) set of six, free YouTube videos about Obsidian use (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgbLb6QCK88). Nick is a talented, well-spoken trainer that will walk you through the basics of using Obsidian. For the OSINT-specific features, take a look at my live stream and the template vault (linked below).

Still need convincing to try it?

A collection of Obsidian data files is called a “vault”. I’ve created a free sample one for you to jump start your adventure into the linked world of Obsidian.

Download the GitHub repository at https://github.com/WebBreacher/obsidian-osint-templates, and you will have an entire sample vault that can be used directly with Obsidian. This is the same vault I used in the demonstration video noted above.

Inside that vault, are several things:

  1. Templates for data collection
    • Some of you might be aware of the sample MindMap files I have created and hosted at https://github.com/webbreacher/osinttools. These files were template examples for you to use in your OSINT work. The idea was that, for every person you investigated, you would most likely be looking for similar content like names, ages, residences, work, education, vehicles, social media, etc. Same thing for domains and businesses. Inside these MindMap files, I created templates demonstrating how you could create these templates for people, domains, and businesses so that each member of your team was documenting the same details.
    • Inside the Obsidian vault, I’ve recreated two of these templates (people and domain). If you are using the vault for documentation, just create a new note and then specify the template content you want pasted into it. it is a great method to standardize your work.
  2. Sample Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)
    • Many of us have static documents that describe how we perform our OSINT work. They tell us to use certain tools in specific manners to retrieve or process data from places on the internet. They might also have drawings in them revealing a process.
    • In the example vault, I’ve created a sample set of SOP documents for you to experiment with. Some of the SOP pages are just links to websites to perform DNS queries and similar activities. But they could be much more detailed with step-by-step descriptions of complicated processes to perform.
  3. Sample case files
    • I definitely learn best through examples. If I can see someone else’s work and then figure out how they did something, I can replicate it. So in the vault, I made and connected multiple notes with fictitious data to demonstrate some of the features that Obsidian supports.
    • By looking at these notes, you will be able to see connections in the data, interesting Obsidian features (like MindMaps and geolocated maps)

But Micah, I already use…

Yes yes. You know me…when I see something of value to the OSINT community, I go “all-in”. I’m not saying you have to replace those amazing tools you are comfortable and competant at using to switch to Obsidian. While I’ve made the switch to use Obsidian for all my notes inside and outside my casework, I admit, it does not do:

  • Network graphing as well as Maltego or OSINT Combine’s Data Visualization Tool. It is not meant to. It CAN show the the relationships inside your notes to highlight places where there are connections that you did not see. Take this example:
    • You made notes for 3 members of a group called the “Obsidian OSINT Club”. In Obsidian, you made 3 person notes (one for each person) and then one note for the club.
    • Later in your work, you create another person note for someone but, since it has been 4 weeks since you worked this case, you forget that you made a note for the “Obsidian OSINT Club”. Instead of linking to it, you just type those words into the person’s note. Obsidian will let you know that there are other places it has seen that use those same words, thereby allowing you to make a connection.
Obsidian Network Map Showing Sample Data
  • Flow charting and diagram creation as well as Diagrams.net. It is not meant to. But it can help you quickly show a process or flow or relationship in your document.
Obsidian Flowchartting Using Mermaid
  • Mapping as well as Google Earth Pro. It simply cannot compete with that powerhouse of a tool. But it will let you add dynamic maps to your notes. (See the example vault for examples).
  • Reporting as well as true word processing documents. While Obsidian can export in a variety of formats (PDF, by default, but many more with the Pandoc program), your report templates and content are still probably best published from your word processing platforms.

Ready to try it?

I hope that I’ve made you excited to give Obsidian a try. My suggestions for next steps are:

  1. Watch the LYT videos to get an idea of basic Obsidian features, functions, and usage.
  2. Watch the live stream recording I made (linked above). It should help you translate how you might use Obsidian in your OSINT work.
  3. Download Obsidian and the Obsidian vault I linked above and start experimenting.
  4. Join the amazing Obsidian Discord community or visit their forums. Links to both are https://obsidian.md/community.
  5. If you are a bit overwhelmed with all the above OR are looking forward to getting started and would like some help, I created a training course at https://www.myosint.training/courses/osint-documentation-with-obsidian.

I like using the best tools for the job. In 90+% of the time, I’m finding Obsidian can do what I need it to do. I now use it for all my documentation during investigations and outside of them. But it is not perfect. No tools are.

In previous blog posts here on https://webbreacher.com you may have seen me write about how MindMaps can revolutionize your OSINT work….well…that used to be the case. Now, Obsidian allows OSINT documentation to be taken to a whole new level of connection and meaning.

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