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5 Situations Where OSINT Tools are Critical for Retail Security

The term open-source intelligence (OSINT) has been used for decades, usually in the context of defence and intelligence communities. Online networks—from social media platforms to covert dark web forums—have become critical OSINT sources for locating security risks, investigating threats, and evaluating public sentiments.

It’s for these same reasons that OSINT tools are becoming a standard investment for retail security and loss prevention teams.

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In recent years, retailers have all the more reason to make this investment, according to recent cybersecurity reports. In 2019, retail moved up just a percentile behind the notoriously pursued financial sector as a primary attack target. 

However, retail security services and LP teams who use OSINT in their daily operations could be missing out on critical data without the right specialized OSINT tools.

OSINT in a Retail Context

data and retail security

Retailers often have a large online presence as well as multiple brick-and-mortar locations. This means that their security teams must respond to threats impacting both digital and physical assets. In many cases, security threats and crisis incidents have simultaneous impacts on both fronts.

There are billions of active monthly users on mainstream social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Access to public data on these platforms—especially when that data is location-based—can give retailers incredible context into active threats to their physical and digital assets, as well as public sentiment and customer feedback towards their brands. 

As we’re seeing with the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, consumers frequently turn to social media faster than any other source to comment on retailers’ crisis response strategies, report outbreaks and other critical events near store and supply chain locations, or alert brands to phishing attempts and other COVID-19 themed scams implicating their brands.public sentiment post about Amazon on Twitter by an influencer
Influencer responding to a large online retailer’s COVID-19 response—discovered using Echosec

Many online communities are also moving off mainstream platforms into more niche, anonymized, or federated networks where discussions are less regulated. Retailers are discovering the value of accessing these more candid OSINT sources for pertinent data.

5 Situations Where Retailers Require OSINT

There are a number of real-world retail security risks that are supported by OSINT from a variety of data sources. What do these situations look like, and how can retailers leverage specific data types in response? 

1. Theft

Relevant Data Sources: 

  • Mainstream social media 
  • Less-regulated social platforms
  • Forums and marketplaces on the deep and dark web

Relevant Data Types: 

  • Users posting about their theft exploits openly on social media
  • Shoplifting strategy discussions, often targeted towards specific brands
  • Marketplace listings selling stolen items


  • Retailer can involve law enforcement and use data to locate suspects
  • Retailer stays more informed about new shoplifting techniques and adapts in-store security accordingly

2. Gift Card Fraud

Relevant Data Sources:

  • Less-regulated social platforms
  • Deep and dark web forums
  • Dark web marketplaces

Relevant Data Types:

  • Gift card fraud “how-to” guides and discussions
  • Marketplace listings for gift card fraud tools and services


  • Retailer better understands how gift card fraud strategies work and evolve
  • Retailer improves digital and physical gift card security to avoid fraud attempts
  • Retailer better informs customers about gift card risks and how to avoid them 

3. Brand Reputation

Relevant Data Sources:

  • News articles and blogs
  • Mainstream social media
  • Popular forums and message boards

Relevant Data Types:

  • Negative press implicating brand
  • Customer and employee feedback (positive and negative) and complaints


  • Retailer assesses public sentiment toward their brand in a specific area or in response to an event, like a health crisis or a data breach
  • Retailer better informs a PR, marketing, customer service, or staffing campaign in response
  • Retailer improves response efficiency to potentially brand-damaging incidents

4. Breaches and Cyber Attacks

Relevant Data Sources:

  • Mainstream social media
  • Deep and dark web forums
  • Paste sites
  • Breached data repositories

Relevant Data Types:

  • Customer complaints or alerts about service disruptions or account compromises
  • Personally identifiable information (PII) from personnel or customers


  • Retailer reviews complaints for potential links to DDoS attacks, breaches, and other cyber threats
  • Retailer assesses and responds to early indications of an internal data breach
  • Retailer evaluates breached credentials to improve security practices—for example, locating password reuse and work email logins on non-work related sites, or improving access control

5. Real-World Crises

Relevant Data Sources:

  • Mainstream social media
  • Less-regulated social networks
  • News articles
  • Deep and dark web forums and marketplaces

Relevant Data Types:

  • On-site images, video streams, or posts from users near a crisis situation
  • Breaking news alerts
  • Discussions about emerging cyberattack techniques
  • Marketplaces or social media accounts offering scam products and services


  • Retailer improves situational awareness and response around an unfolding event, such as an active shooter or an environmental disaster near a store or supply chain location
  • Retailer stays alerted to any relevant online threats, such as cyber threats and scams, associated with the crisis

Roadblocks and Solutions to Retail OSINT

corporate meeting in a boardroom with sunshineThe common goal in each of these situations is to access relevant information fast. This simply isn’t possible by manually searching each social network for pertinent data—and some tracking tools, like Tweetdeck, lack advanced filtering features for reducing noise. Manual searching on unindexed and dark websites without specialized OSINT tools is also not only incredibly tedious, but dangerous.

Another factor in gathering relevant information is data privacy and compliance. Accessing and using public social media data as a retailer without considering privacy laws or the provider’s Terms of Service agreements can result in major public scandals, fines, and data access loss. 

Security strategies are rarely solved in a silver bullet solution. However, ideal retail OSINT tools allow security teams to aggregate and filter relevant information from various sources in one platform. This specialized “search engine” streamlines data access so that retailers can respond quickly and more effectively to a variety of security risks. 

Social media monitoring and how to gather intelligence from open source data   <>

Even integrating a few complementary OSINT tools with different features or data providers is better than manual searches or overlooking retail OSINT altogether. OSINT tools that prioritize privacy laws and data providers’ Terms of Service also give retailers peace of mind with continued, lawful access to the data they need.

As Tom Meehan expressed in this effective OSINT run-down for Loss Prevention Magazine, “OSINT can open a new world of data for retailers.” The volume of online threat data available to security and LP teams is highly valuable but quickly becomes overwhelming. OSINT tools are a clear essential for retailers who want fast and easy access to data that actually matters—whether they’re responding to theft, cyber attacks, or a global health crisis.

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