Why Your Twitter Activity May be Used for Cyber Intelligence

Media Division | January 11, 2017

Cyber intelligence is something which can be obtained from a wide variety of sources.  With the increased use of the internet within our contemporary society, there are sources of cyber intelligence that many do not even realize.  This includes the ever popular social media, namely in this reference, Twitter.

Twitter can be an extremely valuable wealth of intelligence that is untapped by many who could use it, including law enforcement agencies, businesses, or other types of organizations.  For Twitter itself, and other businesses, it can hold extremely valuable analytic data.

From the user perspective, Twitter can be a bit of a double edged sword.  Being that it is an online social media outlet, it is thought of as a place that a person can share opinions, and information about their life and this is also taken to an extent of people believing it is a place to be able to insult and degrade.  While Twitter can be a place of free speech, it is also a place where the data of the posting individual can be collected and used.

The Wealth of Information Contained in a Tweet

The reality is that when a person sends a tweet, it contains much more data than the 140 characters that their posts are limited to.  A single tweet can contain a person’s real name, type of device used, latitude and longitude of the location, and even the person’s place of residence.  Having these types of details could extremely benefit certain types of organizations.  Law enforcement and government would able to better track down criminals or predict and mitigate possible threats much sooner.  There have already been times that police have used feeds from social media platforms to be able to monitor protests or other activities.  According to an article from the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU), “The ACLU of California has obtained records showing that Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram provided user data access to Geofeedia, a developer of a social media monitoring product that we have seen marketed to law enforcement as a tool to monitor activists and protesters.”  As a result of these findings, a few of the social media companies actually cut off access to these feeds.

There was a recent case study of the cyber intelligence that Twitter could provide done by Snode, using the #FeesMustFall hashtag.  Using deeper data obtained from the tweets using the hashtag, they were able to discover several interesting things. For one, a majority of the tweets referred to the University of Witwatersrand, and yet were found to have been sent from the capital city of Pretoria, which is about 40 miles away from the university.  They also found that 94% of the tweets actually originated from politically associated accounts, and only 3% came from accounts associated to an email from the university.  Another interesting thing to note was that the tweets originating from Pretoria referred to Wits University 14 more times than the protest that was going on in their own city.  CIO and co-founder of Snode, Nithen Naidoo said that it can be inferred from this that another agenda was being employed, and that some users were taking advantage of these protests to draw attention to other topics.  He also said that in the end this was misrepresenting the aim of the students.

While this is a smaller example of what intelligence can be obtained from Twitter, the point remains that it can be used for intelligence.  This may concern some users to be aware of the fact that their tweets could be used for this purpose.

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