Whether they be a terrorist, a foreign state or lone malicious hacker, when someone is bent on launching an attack, they need intelligence. Planning a cyber attack is no less reliant on good intelligence: how many personnel are operating at a particular location and what training they might have.

Here is a fictional transcript of a conversation:
Defence Ministry: "DoD helpline, how may I help you?"
Foreign state: "I was wondering if you might help me?"
Defense Ministry: "Yes?"
Foreign state: "We are doing some research and were wondering if you would email us a list of all employees in the army, air force and navy?"

The most likely answer from the Defence Ministry would be unprintable. I realise such a scenario is far-fetched and, in reality, it would not happen. But how else might a foreign state gather information? Hacking into the servers of the Defence Ministry would not only be difficult but would also be traceable. But why bother hacking or using risky intelligence tactics when there is a veritable goldmine of information out there already? The information available on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is just waiting to be tapped.

Someone with the right skills, patience, time, money and resources cold garner a lot of intelligence on military targets, government departments, businesses and individuals through search engines and social media in its various forms. During the Cold War government agencies on all sides would use specialised and illegal methods for gathering intelligence such as bribes, bugs or phone taps. Today the basic intelligence is available online ... for free!

For example, a foreign (rogue) government wants details on the skills, location and numbers of a particular branch of the military. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are good starting points.

First LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a fairly formal social media website which compiles lists of jobs, people, companies and groups. On LinkedIn there are various military groups, one of which, for example has 1500 members; and for many members details of their age, experience, training, C/O, unit, photo and even what base they served at abroad is easy to find.

Jump over to Facebook and there is even more information available. Often the following are listed: religion, political views, college, university, school, relationship, city and photos.

On Twitter it is possible to discover a person’s exact location – Tweets sometimes reveal a person’s frustration at that time and in so doing reveal their current location. For example, “I am stuck between Euston and Kings Cross station on the Underground, what’s going on”.

All these sources could be used as building blocks to create a picture of a person’s movements and other basic intelligence such as military service and expertise.

It is a reasonable assumption that terrorists and/or rogue states are using such tactics to build up lists of who serves where and what unit they are in. It is given to them on a plate, has no cost and is totally legal; so why not?

Countries with huge numbers of military personnel surely include teams dedicated to intelligence and, it is rumoured, some are already engaging in cyber attacks.

Rogue governments and the military are not the only worry. Many domestic terror groups have already been neutralised for planning to kidnap UK soldiers and some of these used social media to find their targets. Using social media information they were able to find addresses from the phone directory; all it takes is half an hour to get all the information you need.

A country’s military systems might well be highly secure and regulated but information passed outside by email and social media networks can easily pass through hostile networks or be read or broken into further down the line.

It is incumbent on everyone to think twice before posting even the most insignificant details. A few small clues can be the starting point to build up a picture of name, rank, number and even location.