Social Media Intelligence - The New Frontier

12 April 2016

In the world of intelligence people often refer to “OSINT” (Open Source Intelligence) and “HUMINT” (Human Source Intelligence) amongst other types of intelligence gathering processes. HUMINT, the stuff of spy novels and films, has traditionally been regarded as the more glamourous cousin of OSINT. It is always easier to make whispered conversations and coded messages look exciting. After all, who wants to make a film about someone crunching databases? In the corporate world, these types of intelligence have long been used as tools for gathering data, whether for a reputational due diligence or to gain leverage in litigation. HUMINT has been part of that toolbox but over the years people are becoming more wary of unsolicited or thinly disguised approaches for information.

Fortunately, as HUMINT has thrown up challenges, whether practical, cultural or ethical, a new form of intelligence is stepping up. Social Media Intelligence – increasingly known as SOCMINT – is providing exactly the kind of useful information about networks and communication that HUMINT used to provide.

There is a saying that “Facebook is where you lie to your friends and Twitter is where you tell the truth to strangers”. While people might be careful what they disclose in references or interviews, they reveal much more from their content and connections. Often this is because at a particular moment in time they didn’t regard those relationships or the content as sensitive and, unlike a conversation, these communications can be identified and preserved.

In less time than it takes to dial a telephone number or arrange a meeting, SOCMINT can answer questions such as “Who do they know?”, “Who have they done business with?”, “Who have they communicated with?” or “What is their opinion on…?”. With the right kind of analytical tools and cyber techniques you can sieve through the firehose and identify the relevant information or draw meaningful conclusions much more quickly and efficiently. Recently Schillings has opened up new lines of enquiry in an investigation into a data breach by finding communications between two key players. In this case we managed to identify and preserve the tweet a few days before the suspect deleted it.

There will always be a place for human intelligence, particularly in emerging economies where OSINT is deficient or in situations where social media profiles are locked down. In the meantime; however, SOCMINT is faster, cheaper and verifiable – if you get there in time. The drawback is that SOCMINT can be easily altered by those who create it. If you suspect a data breach or information leak, the sooner you investigate the more likely you are to be successful.

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About the Author

Juliet Young


Juliet draws on over 15 years of experience in the corporate investigations and intelligence field to help clients solve reputation management and privacy problems.

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