According to the online statistics and business intelligence portal Statista, roughly 2.5 billion people worldwide spent at least some portion of their day connecting, communicating and interacting on social media. The company says 81 percent of Americans now have a social media profile, and most of them say they log into their accounts several times per day.

If you think it’s all mostly cat videos and recipes, you’re not paying attention. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are actually sources of rich data that can provide companies with unique opportunities and insight — provided you have the tools to separate the wheat from the chaff.

It’s no secret that social media is being increasingly used in business for collaboration and communication. It’s also well-established that social media also creates opportunities to interact with consumers in real time, showcase products and services, address concerns and criticisms and boost sales.

However, there is a growing realization that data collection and analytic tools can be used to mine social media for a variety of other benefits, including bolstering security. Social media data analysis is increasingly being used to identify patterns and trends that might indicate risk to an organization’s people, assets or infrastructure — including physical threats, fraud, data leaks and more.

Various market research reports indicate growing interest in the use of automated tools based on Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) principles to collect and analyze information from social media sites and other public sources such as blog posts, chat rooms and even the dark web. The goal is to capture actionable intelligence that extends physical security capabilities into the digital realm.

OSINT essentially refers to information or data that is openly available for anyone to access. Because this tends to be raw, noisy and unstructured data, tools and techniques are needed to filter and analyze the data and produce results that are easy to understand and manage.

Allowing users to define specific search criteria eliminates much of the noisy, commercial content on social media feeds so they can gather relevant data that can be acted upon immediately to address emerging threats. inference engines can be used to put social media posts into context based on user-defined characteristics such as keywords or target geographic region.

Data leak prevention is one of the top use cases for OSINT tools. Information is frequently leaked either accidently or maliciously from internal files and databases, and hackers often use social media channels to offer this data to the highest bidder. Identifying such leaks and finding the source can be a monumental task for investigators using traditional search tools to combing through billions of posts.

However, social media monitoring makes it possible to gather publicly available posts and conversations based upon keywords and phrases of interest. Once a threat has been identified, security teams can gather further information about the individual leaking corporate data. This gives them the information and the tools they require to monitor for future fraudulent activity and be alerted about potential threats.

IT security has always been a bit of a cat-and-mouse game. Social media monitoring tools can help organizations build a more effective trap.