Why You Should Leverage OSINT and Social Media Monitoring during COVID

This article originally appeared in Loss Prevention Magazine.

Social media has revolutionized connectivity because it is so easily accessible: by definition, social media exists on an open public platform. This means that social media can also be used as a tool for open-source intelligence, more commonly referred to as OSINT. OSINT is intelligence collected from publicly available sources and is an effective method of data collection for retailers of any size. OSINT can open a new world of data for retailers, who can then gather data from every public source available and use OSINT tools to narrow the scope of their search.

In recent years, OSINT has become a very popular security tool for retailers, thanks to its versatility and easy accessibility. OSINT’s flexibility makes it appealing to retailers of all sizes, from nationwide chains with large teams dedicated to cyber security to local small businesses who want to use social media to track community activity. In the time of COVID-19, OSINT is especially important. Its potential to monitor security threats can vastly improve how your loss prevention team predicts future trends across your business, from sales to safety.

With more retailers moving large parts of their businesses online, cyber security is even more essential, and OSINT with it. The public data from mainstream social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, contains valuable information for retailers about how their businesses are perceived by consumers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing a lot of users turn to social media to comment on how retailers react to the pandemic or even to reach out to retailers with customer service questions. By developing an organized OSINT strategy, your retail loss prevention team can quickly find and analyze data that affects broad aspects of your business.

Open-Source Intelligence in Loss Prevention

When it comes to security, physical or digital, OSINT is indispensable, especially when it comes to location-based data. Along with giving your LP team insight into customer feedback, OSINT can also give retailers important context into active and potential threats to their businesses. As loss prevention professionals, we have become familiar with the idea that cyber criminals tend to stay a step or two ahead of security professionals when it comes to using new technology. The same concept has surfaced during the COVID-19 pandemic: cyber criminals are using the crisis to launch new phishing scams that take advantage of the public’s anxiety to gain access to their private accounts.

In April, Google reported more than 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to COVID-19, in addition to over 240 million daily spam emails about the novel coronavirus. Like most social engineering tactics, these phishing scams use either fear or finances to create the sense of urgency that provokes victims into falling for the scam. Some examples of COVID-19-related phishing scams include:

  • Impersonating reputable government organizations, such as the World Health Organization, to trick victims into sending money as a donation or downloading malware
  • Pretending to have information about government stimulus payments
  • Acting as a remote worker’s employer enacting new workplace policy
  • Purporting to be a medical expert offering critical health advice regarding COVID-19

PhishLabs is also providing a regularly updated list of the latest coronavirus-themed attacks, such as email lures, URLs, and domains, on their website at phishlabs.com/covid-19-threat-intelligence.

Beyond Social Media Monitoring: Using OSINT During Times of Crisis

Though the information from OSINT is easy to access, it is important that retailers are using it effectively and efficiently, which involves a two-step process: monitoring and analyzing. For retailers who want to track and analyze data on a larger scale, using an OSINT tool to do the work of collecting and understanding the data is definitely worth investing in. While manual social media monitoring could mean combing through thousands of data points, one by one, before your LP team can see a pattern, using an OSINT tool to search for and analyze the data can find important patterns much more quickly, allowing you to dedicate more time and resources to responding to consumer feedback, security threats, and more. For example, an OSINT tool lets you choose what kind of data you want to collect, such as geotagged posts or images only, to help LP teams narrow down their searches.

Echosec, my tool of choice for OSINT, is using their technology to conduct real-time monitoring of the COVID-19 crisis, collecting data from around the world to give people insight into how the pandemic is affecting our world in many different ways. Following their updates can help to give your LP team some ideas on how to use OSINT and social media monitoring to address the COVID-19 pandemic specifically.

Though it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, for businesses to have prepared for a crisis like the global COVID-19 pandemic, retailers can still adapt how they respond during this crisis. Clearly, OSINT is an invaluable tool for loss prevention and security teams, but you can also use the data from OSINT to help other parts of your business, such as sales and marketing. One of the many unfortunate consequences of the COVID-19 crisis is how retailers of all sizes have taken a hit due to a drop in sales and interruptions to their supply chains. If you are already investing in an OSINT tool, then I recommend using it in as many ways as possible.

An OSINT tool can collect a vast range of data from users discussing your organization on social media, which includes how they feel about your products, your service, or your overall reputation during the crisis. For example, Top Rank Marketing suggests adjusting your OSINT tool’s dashboard to collect data about topics, questions, and concerns beyond your typical searches.

Like many new technologies, OSINT can be a powerful tool, but it should only make up one part of your loss prevention strategy. As loss prevention professionals, it is important that we incorporate technology with a solid understanding of human behavior and society, so we can protect our physical and digital assets at work while educating consumers about proper cyber-security techniques at home.


Tom’s column is featured in every issue of Loss Prevention Magazine. To subscribe to the printed version of the magazine and enjoy other great content, visit losspreventionmedia.com.