Threat Intelligence Blog

Posted May 5, 2014

In this two-part series, we explore the darker side of social media to find out why criminals like social media, and some of the ways they’re using it.

Funny cat videos. Beautiful vacation scenes. Food photos. High school buddies. Your niece just scored 1,000 points on Candy Crush. When you think of social media, those are just some of the things that may spring to mind. Cartels, prisoners, and gangs probably aren’t the first thought, at least for most people. However, just as social media is being used by millions of companies around the world to engage with and better serve customers, organized criminal groups are using it to recruit members and to plan attacks. The following examples demonstrate just a few reasons why criminals like social media, too.

This infographic from Instant Checkmate takes a closer look at the relationship between social media and crime.


Mexican cartels have been in the headlines for years as a result of ongoing drug trafficking and brutal murders. These days, cartel members are using social media to find personal information that they can use in crimes like kidnapping. Facebook profiles, LinkedIn, and Twitter often have details that help cartel members get information about an individual’s value, visibility, schedule, network, and vulnerability to attack. Criminals need very little technical knowledge to look up the location of geo-tagged pictures in order to find out where a potential victim can be located.


The militants responsible for the 2011 attacks on the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel also used social media and other online intelligence. They used Google Earth to find their target, found blueprints and diagrams of the hotel through the open source, and then coordinated their routes using that information, as well as underground, untraceable methods of communicating.


It may not seem logical that a prisoner behind bars is using the same social media platform that your marketing team uses to post a friendly message from your organization’s president, but it is happening. In 2011, more than 15,000 cell phones were taken from inmates in California’s prisons alone. The prisoners were using the phones to organize criminal plans and find new members for their gangs. Globally, prison gangs have also used social media to extort money from businesses. In Peru, it was estimated that more than 500 small to mid-sized businesses nationwide were extorted in 2014, collectively paying around $18 million in the year so far in the capital.

In our next post, we’ll discuss other ways criminals are using social media.

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