When we zoom out and think about corporate threat assessment investigations holistically, it’s clear that social media plays a significant role — but how significant is it?

In this blog post we’d like to explore the benefits of using social media when conducting investigative research as well as the pitfalls of relying solely on social media to manage threats.

There are four clear advantages:

  1. Breaking news alerts
    Social media is also a useful tool for up-to-the-minute event alerting. It’s no secret that news often breaks faster on various forums long before it hits cable or local news.
  2. Social listening for keywords
    Social media and related social listening tools are an excellent way to monitor and get alerted to attention-grabbing keywords such as the name of your asset in close proximity to threat terms. Early notification of potential threats that need to be triaged and assessed are essential, and social media is quite useful in this respect.
  3. Recognizing escalating trends
    Important insights can be gained about threat actors via online trends they engage in. This gives analysts the supporting details they need to make informed assessments about the nature of a threat.
  4. Network analysis
    Although social media carries with it many unknown factors such as who is actually behind a given account, it can provide investigators with a web of connections to be mapped via data analysis tools used outside of social platforms.

Generally, social media can be useful for quick identification of potential threats. It helps surface anomalies that need to be investigated, then the analyst is able to triage them and make quick assessments from there. And for the most part, that’s where the role of social media ends (minus ongoing monitoring of keywords).

Now, what risks do we run in limiting our investigations to social media alone?

Identifying the person behind the threat

Using social media alone limits an analyst’s ability to identify the person behind the threat. What’s more, analysts must be cognizant that they are not violating terms of service with social media platforms. After identifying a potential threat on social media, the next logical step is to resolve the identity of the person behind it, which will help the investigator assess the threat.

Oftentimes, resolving the identity of the person behind an online profile with a high degree of certainty requires the use of credentialed investigative data sources such as TLO, Accurint, LexisNexis, etc. Social media alone is not a reliable means of identifying the human behind an online threat — as many here have experienced, it’s easy to find yourself going down a rabbit hole of information on the wrong person when using social media on its own.

Gaining deeper insights to see beyond the surface

It is critical to see beyond the surface of the investigation, prompting the need for deeper insights which are unavailable via social media. After using credentialed data sources to resolve the identity of the threat actor, the investigator can take what they learned (e.g. foundational PII, professional licenses, asset ownership, associates, etc.) and dive deeper into additional sources to identify risk factors that help the investigator understand the threat actor’s behaviors, motivations, and capabilities.

The many pieces of information from credentialed data sources give the investigator hints as to what additional sources they should check and where they are likely to find useful information.

For example, the threat actor’s address history tells the investigator where to search for county / state civil & criminal records, sex offender registries, property records, Secretary of State filings, vehicle registrations, etc. Or a security guard license through BSIS might indicate firearms ownership. There are many ways that information from credentialed sources support investigators discovery of deep insights.

Final Thoughts

While this is only a brief overview of the role that social media plays in the wider investigative process, it clearly demonstrates that social media is a small piece of the overall investigative process. It is beneficial for the identification of potential threats — however, it begins to lose value as investigators move onto identity resolution and the collection of deep insights relating to threat actors.

Learn more about overlooked data sources and the value of capturing the complete picture by reading Level Up Your Threat Hunting Game.

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About the Center for Protective Intelligence

By every metric, the role of protective intelligence is growing increasingly important for your security program. The Center for Protective Intelligence is Ontic's approach for sharing our expertise through content and community building in order to support the mission of physical security professionals of keeping people safe.

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