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Dark social: A growing cyber intel concern

January 10, 2017 (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kevin Coleman)
Have you ever heard the term "dark social"? If you haven’t, relax — you are not alone. The term was coined back in 2012 by the editor of The Atlantic, Alexis C. Madrigal. It refers to social media traffic (posting, messaging, etc.) that is not traceable.

In fact, many of the social media site interactions are completely encrypted and/or disappear once that specific interaction has ended, leaving no trace. One troubling dark social stat came out early in 2016. In that report, it clearly stated that a whopping 69 percent of social media sharing activities occur over dark social globally. Add to that the fact that it is the dominant sharing method on mobile platforms.

In a separate study, mobile activity was estimated at 82 percent of total dark social interactions. Some have even gone so far as to call dark social “the future of social media,” and with stats like this, it is easy to see why.

There are many legitimate uses of dark social, and it is receiving a growing amount of attention from businesses and marketing organizations. However, some are concerned about its many other uses. Stop for a moment and consider the challenges dark social creates. Many feel we are not able to fully track dark social traffic. Could it or has it become a major source of communications among covert operatives, terrorists, activists and criminals? It is easy to see that the active identification of individuals and organizations messaging via dark social is incredibly hard.

Another area of difficulty and increasing concern is cyber forensics (e-forensics or digital forensics). With all of the tools and methods currently in use to hide the identity of cyberattackers, how confident can we be when it comes to attribution?

Social media has been a challenge for cyber intelligence agencies the world over. With the increased use of dark social, the challenge has now increased substantially. Alarms are beginning to sound and answers are being sought to ensure that dark social does not become a cyber intelligence-free zone.

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