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InCyberDefenseMaintaining Shareable Content Privacy in the Age of Social Media Intelligence Wes O'Donnell February 12, 2018
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By Brittany Lamon-Paredes
Master’s Student, Intelligence Studies, American Military University

Social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter provide instantaneous marketing opportunities across a spectrum of countries. But these sites are also quick and easy ways for users to fall prey to cyber exploitation.

Shareable content has become a double-edged sword. Several public platforms collect consumer location, photos and preferences.

According to a January 2018 Fortune Magazine interview, Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, stated: “I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”

Shareable Content Is Trackable and Potent, Meaning Reduced Privacy for Consumers

Shared content that appeals to you and me will have Web analysts conducting trend analyses of “likes,” “shares” and other traceable metrics. For example, your reservation status at a local restaurant or shared content from a political candidate will appear in Web analytics reports. That raises a realistic question of privacy inferred from the scope of the Fourth Amendment (see U.S. v. Microsoft).

Other shareable content can be potentially dangerous as well. For instance, the Arab Spring and revolts of 2011 in the Middle East exposed the revolutionary potency of information sharing via mobile phones and computers.

What Protections Are There for Shareable Content?

Let’s say an international hacker group attacked a Twitter computer network. Regardless of attribution or accountability, these types of virtual attacks expose your newsfeed to people who are not in your friends list.

Cyber groups can flag keywords and create entire databases of shared information with just a few computers. Because there is a low threshold to acquire consumer data, how does the platform you use deter foreign cyber espionage? Private companies must shift from cyber consumerism to cyber deterrence.

Any Information Consumers Share Online Could Be Used for the Wrong Reasons

Consumer information and postings can be turned against social media users and potentially become cyber threats. For example, U.S. government cyber analysts can synthesize open-source “actionable information” from social media to improve threat analysis, link matrix of targets and tactical elements. The examination of social media for intelligence purposes is a budding field of collection.

Terrorists’ Behavior in Social Media Could Be Used to Defeat Them

At the University of Arizona, researchers Daniel Zeng, Hsinchun Chen, Robert Lusch and Shu Hsing Li produced a social media analytics quantitative study based on “user-generated content.” While private companies could use content-based data for tasks such as analyzing your favorite type of shoes, the same method of analysis could also assist in narrowing terrorists’ frequently used sites and behavior patterns.

The Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium collates this information through its data collection on ISIS recruitment. ISIS-K (a provincial division of ISIS for the nations of Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan) and other facets of this terrorist group market visuals and flyers on social media sites.

While Al-Qaeda also used video platforms to spread information, the sheer amount of exposure that ISIS gained via social media is prolific. Computer exploitation by government agencies in the United States could be a key asset in thwarting this type of terrorist activity.

What Viable Capabilities Exist for Private Companies to Protect the Consumer? 

Evidently, shareable information can be exploited internally and externally. But what viable capabilities exist for private companies to protect the consumer? Aside from privacy protections offered on most sites, this type of data securing becomes critical.

The Departments of Defense and Homeland Security advocate user protection over personally identifiable information (PII). A majority of users on social media sites understand that phone numbers and other identifiable information is not safe to share on the Web.

However, some individuals still test the boundaries of protection. One of the fundamental dilemmas of social media is the accuracy of the information they contain.

The acquisition of accurate data may require research and development not yet created. However, the idea of protecting your shared content could translate into protecting national security.

Security expert David Omand discusses this type of cyber deterrence and defense in Intelligence and National Security. The potential development of SOCMINT (social media intelligence) as a form of intelligence collection could extrapolate adversarial shareable data. If user content can predict the types of coffee bars you would enjoy, then it is likely to also reveal information about foreign criminal activity.

Time and resources are the mitigating factors that control the security of what you post as shareable content. Inevitably, the consumer seeks autonomy in what is posted and assumes the responsibility for vulnerabilities. How private companies will assist in cyber deterrence is an ongoing development.

About the Author

Brittany Lamon-Paredes is a professional in the defense and intelligence industries. She received her bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College in Political Science and Anthropology. Brittany is finishing her master’s degree in intelligence studies at American Military University.

She currently serves in the United States Navy as a Reservist and has experience in tactical intelligence, with a focus on all-source intelligence analysis. Currently, Brittany enjoys researching and writing on critical infrastructure protection and cyber deterrence used by the United States. She is the Treasurer of the Student Veterans Association at American Military University and part of the Editorial Staff for the Society of Defense and Strategic Studies at American Military University. Her ultimate goal is to work for an intelligence agency in its operations departments.

 

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