By Cynthia Hetherington
Due diligence investigations examine the backgrounds of corporate entities and the principals who manage them. They are applicable to all professionals involved in investigations, insurance and risk managers, attorneys, investigative reporters, security practitioners, and every-day consumers. Business intelligence, open source research (OSINT), and social media research (SOCMINT) are key tools that assist in researching and conducting due diligence.
Hg conducts online backgrounds on businesses, persons, and entities—foreign and domestic. In employing OSINT and SOCMINT skills, we are able to expose fraudulent business enterprises, locate assets, and gather undercover intelligence. In this 4-part series, we discuss how to use public record resources, social media resources, no-cost social media and open source monitoring, and the difference between fee and free resources, and offer two case studies. This week look at social media (SOCMINT) resources and open source monitoring.
The type of public information found on social media can best be culled from fee-based sources. These tools do not gain special access into closed and protected accounts but gather information from open and shared profiles, such as Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, and other popular social media platforms.
Using a professional tool can be advantageous, because you can configure it to gather precise content based on your particular needs. For example, if you need to locate mentions of your client’s brand in Spanish within a two-mile radius of Tel Aviv, there are multiple products—many of which Hg analysts of reviewed— that can home in on that specificity and produce useful results: Dataminr, Liferaft Navigator, Cybertoolbelt, and DarkOwl. These products, costing a few hundred dollars a month and upward, cover everything from multiple venues, languages, and platforms, among many other specific outputs. The best approach for purchasing these resources is to determine your expectations and request a sample search from your vendor of interest.
If you need to track down stolen goods, manage reputational risk, are working in human trafficking, or are trying to communicate from North Korea with an escaped uncle in South Korea, you will likely find yourself turning to the Dark Web for information. The Dark Web, or darknet, is classified as a small portion of the World Wide Web that has been intentionally hidden and is inaccessible through standard web browsers. There is, in fact, no “darknet Google.” Darknet sites are often put up and taken down within a matter of minutes specifically to maintain anonymity. The entire drive behind the Dark Web is anonymity—and privacy. DarkOwl focuses solely on the Dark Web. If you are new to Dark Web SOCMINT investigations, training is highly recommended. Hg offers a variety of training opportunities, including our free, downloadable Dark Web Primer and the Dark Web Tools Tutorial Webinar.
A variety of investigative professionals find these SOCMINT tools useful to their client work. Security officers, for example, use these tools to monitor high profile events such as red carpets, which are soft targets for adventurous fans or stalkers. Audit and accounting professionals are able to track their client’s assets in real-time as they are discussed on social media. Valuation experts can monitor current trending or topical discovery of their products/stock, or other assets. And investigative journalists can track down leads across the globe in the comfort of their personal offices.
No-cost Social Media & Open Source Monitoring
Fee sources allow for monitoring, email alerts, and convenience. However, if you only to use the service for an occasional look-up or tracking of a brand/product/asset, then free open source tools are a great option. A combination of the free tools coupled with the fee-based resources is recommended for any practitioner.
Free tools in this area may have different strengths: Some will monitor for a brand or product, others for a social media account, still others may capture keywords. Some examples include Hootsuite, IFTTT, and Claz. Experimenting with free sources is an excellent way monitor or your awareness on a topic.
Fee + Free
The question of fee-based databases versus free searches is answered by need. If you have no rush to locate your business intelligence, much of the information you seek can be discovered on the free side. However, an investigator’s efforts should be spent on the case—not trying to discover sources for said case. Professional sources should be implemented when it is feasibly and legally possible, and free sources should always be considered.
It is common to combine professional search tools with SOCINT to narrow down key content on an individual when writing up a report. Statements made on social media accounts can often be validated via public records. For example, a comment on Facebook about home construction woes could be validated with a work permit at the local housing authority. Prior to open sources and social media, much of this type of “hearsay” content was discovered through surveillance, neighbor interviews, and trash pick-ups. Today, investigators can sit at their desks and gather much of their intelligence from self-reports on a variety of social media platforms. The investigator’s ability to locate the online profile, monitor the activity, capture the key elements, and then verify the statements made there takes keen observation, critical thinking, and an open mind.
Are you an analyst or investigator looking for advanced OSINT/SOCMINT training on due diligence? If so, check out Hg’s webinar series, where you can attend live sessions and receive CEUs or watch previously recorded sessions to beef up your investigative skills.
Are you interested in working with a company but unsure if it’s legitimate? As veteran investigators in due diligence, Hg understands the business world and the legal and regulatory frameworks in which corporations and privately held companies operate. Our skilled analysts excel at exposing financial risks, reputational issues, criminal activity, and legal actions detrimental to your personal and business stability. Learn how our team can arm you with the data you need.
Cynthia Hetherington, MLS, MSM, CFE, CII is the founder and president of Hetherington Group, a consulting, publishing, and training firm that leads in due diligence, corporate intelligence, and cyber investigations by keeping pace with the latest security threats and assessments. She has authored three books on how to conduct investigations, is the publisher of the newsletter, Data2know: Internet and Online Intelligence, and annually trains thousands of investigators, security professionals, attorneys, accountants, auditors, military intelligence professionals, and federal, state, and local agencies on best practices in the public and private sectors.