Why social media is at the forefront of protective intelligence

By Emily Byrne, Content Manager at Track24

In today’s divisive political climate, for businesses, organisations and enterprises, “the most dangerous risk may be the one [they] did not foresee.” Source. It has been noted when it comes to risk management, “maintaining a preventative, proactive methodology to [threats] has proven to be more beneficial and cost effective than a reactive approach.” Source.

In this blog, Track24 explores why social media is at the forefront of protective intelligence. First things first, what does protective intelligence mean? In terms of security, protective intelligence is outlined by Fred Burton and Scott Stuart in Security Weekly’s article as: Source. In simple terms, protective intelligence is the process used to identify and assess threats.” Source. In a society where threats from terror and political disturbances demand us to always expect the unexpected, as Fred Burton shares in his October 2020 Security Magazine article, “The ability to see around corners has never been more important.” Source.

Track24 takes a closer look at examples of how social media can aid protective intelligence and considers when we should be wary when using social platforms.

OSINT and SOSINT: Where does social media come into play?

The largest collection of information available to private investigators (and here we’re talking the big boys… the FBI, CIA and NSA) is open source intelligence, or OSINT. This means intelligence collected from publicly available mediums, like, you guessed it – social media. Source. Other examples of OSINT include the internet, photos, the media and geospatial information. Social media is the largest and broadest field of OSINT as its integrated technology allows users to generate content online for both interaction and collaboration for little, or often, no cost. “Much broader than just Facebook and Twitter, examples of social media sites include blogs and microblogging sites, media-sharing portals, mashups, RSS feeds and podcasts. This collective source of information is growing so large within the intelligence community it is even gaining its own acronym, SOSINT for Social Open Source Intelligence.” Source.

Of course, the obvious must be stated. Social media can, too, pose a huge threat when it comes to cyber security, as highlighted and elevated by the Coronavirus pandemic.  “From January to April of this year, according to data gleaned from Ontic’s clients, companies reported a 300% increase in COVID-19 and threat-related data through social media.” Source Businesses, organisations and enterprises should be wary when it comes to social media, though intelligence professionals have the upper hand when it comes to harnessing the protective intelligence powers and possibilities of such platforms.

Real world examples: How can social media aid protective intelligence? 

The publication LexisNexis’ Social Media Use in Law Enforcement used surveys to identify real world examples where social media was used to prevent or thwart pending crime in the USA, such as by stopping active shooters, in tracking gang behavior, mitigating threats towards school students and enacting arrest warrants. “For the private investigator seeking information on the behavioral circumstances of a subject, something as quick and easy as analyzing status updates, check-ins and posted photos by the subject and their friends may provide the information necessary to conclude if a legitimate threat exists.” Source.

The scammed and the scammer: Social media and malicious activity targeting the individual

Social media can be used maliciously by hackers or scammers to target individuals, by harnessing data or personal information for personal gain. Protective intelligence means being wary of this and ensuring strategies are in place to combat potential threats, before they happen.  The hit Netflix documentary The Tinder Swindler has been a talking-point in the mainstream media in recent months. We learn of the so-called swindler himself, Shimon Hayut, who uses dating apps to lure in multiple women, before establishing loans and lines of credit in their names. Source.

Elon Musk embraced the powers of protective intelligence when he took it upon himself to challenge a person of interest, who had been posting his private flight details online, which posed a substantial security risk. The scammer was blackmailing Musk, demanding a ransom to be paid. Media reports reported: “Elon Musk states social-media accounts that track his travel movements are ‘becoming a security issue’.” Source. In a latest hacking trend, “tail numbers and yacht names of billionaires are increasingly being shared on online platforms. One can track them by having the appropriate app unless significant efforts are made to secure them from the reach of those diligent few. These are unique specific details” that protective intelligence and security teams “need to pay close attention to at all times.” Source.

Staying savvy: Social media and protective intelligence for businesses, organisations and enterprises

Businesses, organisations and enterprises should be increasingly wary of the risks posed by social media, putting into place protective intelligence measures in a proactive, rather than reactive manner. “While the benefits of social are clear, there are risks to be wary of. According to the latest EY Global Information Security Survey, 59% of organizations had a “material or significant incident” in the past 12 months.” Source. In her recent LinkedIn article, Denida Grow, founder and CEO of Athena Worldwide investigates how SOSINT might be used to counteract potential threats to security posed by social media.  “The use of social media and the way it affects our lives and businesses have brought a new challenge to the security industry and the protective team’s responsibility. It gives the entire world the ability to look into people’s lives with the mere push of a button. Scandals are created, secrets exposed, and lives ruined. In the case of personal security, social media can be used in the advancement of a protective detail; however, one must know how to utilize it properly.” Source.

High profile organisations have recently become victims of malicious attacks from hackers, via social media platforms and add-ons. One example is the hacking of the Twitter accounts associated with the International Olympics committee. It is believed hackers accessed the accounts through a third-party analytics app. FC Barcelona were then found to be victims of the same hack. Read more on the story, as reported by Reuters, here: Source. Hootsuite’s blog alerts us of a further breach of security through social media hacking, this time, at the level of international government. “The government of the Cayman Islands recently had to issue an imposter alert. Someone was impersonating a government minister on Instagram.” Source. The hackers were using the account to contact individuals about a fake relief grant.  Hootsuite highlights that “LinkedIn’s latest transparency report notes that they took action on 21.6 million fake accounts in just six months. The majority of those accounts (95%) were blocked automatically at registration. But more than 67,000 fake accounts were only addressed once members reported them.” Source

To summarise, in a landscape where hacks and scams are more rife than ever, businesses, organisations and enterprises must have protective intelligence strategies in place, when it comes to using social media. SOSINT strategies mean you can not only protect yourself online, but also identify what is being said about your business or your clients, brands or corporations you are involved with, to combat any threats or risks which may exist in relation to these aspects. Source.

At Track24, we’ve compiled a quick guide of how social media could be used to support protective intelligence in your business, organisation or enterprise;

  1.  To include any findings in your Risk and Threat Assessment. Social media surveys and investigations should now be a key part of this.
  2.  To identify individuals who may pose risk or threat to you or your client, for example stalkers, in extreme cases.
  3.  To identify hate groups or terrorist organisations that may affect you or your client.
  4.  To identify people or businesses you or your client may or may not want to do business with. Perhaps this might be down to their political standpoint, or the way they express their views on platforms such as LinkedIn, for example.
  5. To identify workplace violence or insider threats indicators.
  6. To find out what is the ‘’public opinion’’ regarding your own business or a client, existing or potential. (You should always keep your eyes peeled for what is being said about a client and have a strategy to respond to this accordingly). 
  7. Finally, to determine if anyone is utilizing your businesses or client’s name in a malicious or unauthorized manner, perhaps for personal benefit. For example, claiming associations or partnerships.

Takeaways 

In conclusion, the changing landscape of our society and our habitual online presence, means social media is certainly at the forefront of protective intelligence. We’ve highlighted the necessity to be cautious and monitor our use of social media and explored how deploying SOSINT strategies can help to protect us and mitigate threats on both a personal and at a business level. We’ve honed in on social open source intelligence (SOSINT) in particular, whilst providing a quick guide as to how your business, organisation or enterprise can use social media to boost its protective intelligence.

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