Open Source Intelligence For Retail Security

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May 19, 2019

Retail organizations around the world are fully embracing open source intelligence (OSINT). OSINT allows businesses to seamlessly filter through billions of online posts to discover valuable intelligence for their security operations.

Assessing Geopolitical Risk

Whitepaper: How OSINT tools can address current intelligence challenges.

Technological advances and OSINT techniques are crucial for retail security teams. Each year, security management teams from around the world attend NRF Protect, a conference described as the “only place where loss prevention and cybersecurity professionals can unite to network, share insights and develop strategies vital to their organization’s protection.”

NRF Protect represents just how important OSINT technology is in the retail industry. In this article, we’ll explore the role of different public intelligence sources in retail—but first, a bit more on NRF Protect.

Loss prevention and security experts unite

Over 2,500 retail security professionals and over 300 exhibitors attend NRF each year. The conference is organized by the National Retail Federation, a trade association that represents the largest private-sector industry in the US.

“As cyber threats continue to evolve, retailers are on the front lines of cybersecurity, working to protect their assets and data from criminal hacker groups that seek to steal sensitive data and exploit it for commercial gain,” event organizers say. “As [they] continue to expand, retailers must make investments to protect their systems, networks, people, and customer information.” Attendees also “learn from industry leaders, gain real-world knowledge and explore new products” from an array of exhibitors.

The Echosec Systems Platform is an example of new OSINT technology exhibited at NRF Protect. The Platform’s social view allows retailers to aggregate and filter critical security information by location from public sources, such as social media, news, and imageboard sites. The deep and dark web view allows retailers to search quickly and safely for threats implicating their business.

The role of open source intelligence in loss prevention

OSINT provides retail businesses with critical on-the-ground information about security threats. When physical threats such as burglaries, shoplifting, or any other violent incidents occur in the vicinity of a store, photos and commentary from the scene usually reach social media faster than news outlets or first responders. Believe it or not, some shoplifters boast about their exploits publicly on social media.

The Platform uses advanced filters and geofencing technology to aggregate this information across a number of open source providers. This offers retail security teams situational awareness from the scene so they can respond quickly. It also allows security teams to locate shoplifters and investigate violent incidents.

The flip side of surface web sources is deep and dark web content. These unindexed areas of the web are difficult and dangerous to search through—but they provide critical information about retail threats, from counterfeit sales to how-to discussions about gift card fraud. The Platform allows security teams to safely and efficiently find relevant information from these sources. This information is critical for finding active threats hidden in plain sight, informing proactive security strategies, and performing post-incident investigations.

The OSINT market is expected to grow to $26 billion by 2026. OSINT is becoming a crucial tool in any retailer’s ability to:

  • Protect assets, employees, customers, and executives
  • Monitor event safety
  • Detect internal and external fraud and data breaches
  • Assess brand reputation and public sentiment

The role of social media

The Echosec Systems Platform focuses on aggregating and filtering social media, news, and blog content crucial for retailers. Consumers, bloggers, social media users, and newsmakers create billions of publicly available data points every day related to potential security threats or brand sentiment.

The Platform’s 24/7 monitoring and notification functionality is incredibly valuable for understanding public sentiment in a particular area towards a brand. This can be useful for improving a retailer’s customer service strategy or informing a PR or marketing campaign. As mentioned earlier, the tool is also useful for identifying physical threats within specific locations, such as stores, shopping malls, and parking lots. 

The Platform combines keyword, geo, date range, and image detection filters, as well as other advanced filtering tools. This enables retailers to quickly prepare for, detect, and respond to:

  • Crisis situations, such as active shooter situations or bomb threats
  • Workplace violations
  • Travel risk management
  • PR disasters
  • Customer complaints (or praise)

The importance of dark web access

Retail is in the top 5 most targeted industries by cyberthreats, according to IBM’s X-Force Threat Intelligence Index. Many of these threats go undetected by retailers because the deep and dark web, hotspots for cyber threat activity, are cumbersome and dangerous to navigate. Many IT and security teams do not have access to dark web search tools, and those who do are unsure where to start.

The Echosec Systems Platform removes the common obstacles associated with dark web discovery. It filters out relevant content and gives users safe access to 6 million dark web posts per month. The Platform allows users to filter content by keyword, image, personally identifiable information, and a variety of other content indicators. Users can view text-based content within Beacon or use provided links to access dark websites directly in Tor. 

The Platform is continuously fine-tuned to focus on data aggregation and predictive intelligence through machine learning and AI. This helps users cut down on noise and find posts that actually matter to their business.

The Platform gives any retail security team the power to find, investigate, and act on malicious activity relevant to their business. It’s also immensely useful for learning about the latest cyber threat tactics and informing retail security strategies to prevent attacks.

Most retail threats exist on dark web marketplaces and discussion forums. The following are examples of threats the deep and dark web view has discovered against a variety of major retailers:

  • Data breaches—both against executives/employees and customer accounts
  • Sale of counterfeit goods
  • Gift card fraud
  • Shoplifting
  • Discount scams
  • Sale of how-to guides on any of the above threats

Malicious activity is happening on the dark web, whether or not retailers know about it. Discovery tools are critical for exposing threats and giving retailers the power to stay informed, act on cybercriminals, adapt their security processes, and prevent future attacks.

Open source data gives retailers instant visibility

OSINT tools are crucial for discovering brand mentions in a variety of contexts, from customer sentiment circulating through social media, to posts on dark web marketplaces and discussion forums. Finding this information can mean the difference between customer loyalty and a PR disaster, or securing vs. jeopardizing physical and digital retail assets.

Retail security’s needs from OSINT are constantly evolving to match new technologies and threat tactics. Protecting assets and minimizing loss are just skimming the surface of what OSINT can do for retail. OSINT tools enable retailers to source operations, protect executives and employees abroad, provide situational awareness around shareholders, and monitor the global economy, events, and political climates to assess impacts on retail operations.

Open source intelligence tools like The Echosec Systems Platform are used worldwide by retail security seeking real-time, 24/7 intelligence to protect customers, employees, executives, and assets against active threats.

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