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5 Cases for OSINT Tools and Social Media for Security

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

It’s for these same reasons that OSINT tools are becoming a standard investment for security teams universally.

 

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

OSINT and social media for retail

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 cases for OSINT tools

There are a number of real-world security risks that are supported by OSINT from a variety of data sources. What do these situations look like, and how can organizations 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
  • Theft strategy discussions, often targeted towards specific brands
  • Marketplace listings selling stolen items

Outcome: 

  • Companies can involve law enforcement and use data to locate suspects
  • The company 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

Outcome:

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

3. Brand protection and reputation management

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

Outcome:

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

4. Data 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

Outcome:

  • The company scans complaints for potential links to DDoS attacks, breaches, and other cyber threats
  • The company assesses and responds to early indications of an internal data breach
  • The company 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

Outcome:

  • The company 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
  • The company stays alerted to any relevant online threats, such as cyber threats and scams, associated with the crisis

Roadblocks and OSINT solutions

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 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 organizations can respond quickly and more effectively to a variety of security risks. 

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Even integrating a few complementary OSINT tools with different features or data providers is better than manual searches or overlooking OSINT altogether. OSINT tools that prioritize privacy laws and data providers’ Terms of Service also give organizations 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 essential for organizations that want fast and easy access to data that actually matters—whether they’re responding to theft, cyberattacks, or global crises.

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