The Past, Present and Future of the Military and Social Networks: The Social Media Privacy Report

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The branches of the armed forces serve and protect civilians but what happens when cyber attackers get them? In the world of online security, ammunition and tactical field work can’t stop a cybercrook from doing damage. As we have seen, the military and armed forces are not immune to the destruction that can be imposed by hackers and other internet criminals. Just last week, as we reported, there was a massive data breach affecting tens of thousands of military personnel emails and encrypted passwords.

So, with a multitude of looming privacy and security issues running amuck, we examine the past and present of the military’s personal usage social media. Then we ask you to think about the future.

Historical, Social Media is a No-No

In the summer of 2009, when social networks like Twitter and Facebook were growing in popularity and MySpace was still a player in the field, the United States Marine Corps banned the use of social media on its network.  According to an InformationWeek article dating back to this time, the mandate stated that social networking sites are, “a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high risk due to information exposure, user generated content and targeting by adversaries.” It continued that these sites create “vulnerabilities that can be exploited and may expose unnecessary information to adversaries, putting military personnel at increased risk of compromise.”

Then, as Location Based Services , which we reported on in the past, became popular, the United States Army and Air Force both voiced their concerns. In November of 2010, NPR reported that troops were instructed to be careful when using Facebook, Foursquare and similar social networks. While the branches of the armed forces did not ban the sites, they had cautioned personnel to be careful and “consider their own privacy, as well as the needs of their own security.”

The Current State

In a recent statement on the Official United States Army Website, the message remains the same: military members must use social media cautiously to protect their online privacy and the security of fellow personnel.

The release from the Social Media Division of the US Army Office of the Chief of Public Affairs states that Facebook and other networks are crawling with fake profiles and scammers posing as military personnel when they are actually cybercriminals! And these scam artists (pictured at left courtesy of the US Army) work tirelessly to steal personal information as they impersonate Soldiers in attempts to acquire sensitive information.

“It’s still the wild west out there,” said Staff Sargent Dale Sweetnam in the release, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the Online and Social Media Division (OSMD). “You have to stay vigilant, protect your information and always be on the lookout for social media scams.”

Major . Juanita Chang the director of OSMD stated, “If you are a scammer who wants to build someone’s trust and then con them into sending you money, doesn’t it make sense to steal the identity of someone America trusts — and nobody is held in higher esteem than our military members, so they make a lucrative case to impersonate. People inherently trust the military and wouldn’t imagine being conned by a Soldier or a general with a chest full of medals.”

Whether you are a member of the armed forces or just a civilian clicking around on Facebook, the OSMD has some great suggestions to stay safe:

  • Do not share information that you don’t want to become public.
  • Verify a “friend” request by phone or other means before allowing access. Group “friends” into different categories and control access permissions based on the groups.
  • Take a close look at all privacy settings. Set security options to allow visibility to “friends only.”
  • Users should be careful about what they post about their lives on social media platforms. Once something is out there, users can’t control where it goes.
  • Be cautious when listing job, military organization, education and contact information.
  • Ensure that information posted online has no significant value to the enemy. Always assume that the enemy is reading every post made to a social media platform.
  • Closely review photos before they go online. Make sure they do not give away sensitive information which could be dangerous if released.
  • Make sure to talk to family about operations security and what can and cannot be posted.
  • Create different, strong passwords for each online account. Never give password information away.

As the military presents these guidelines today, we ask you to think about the future of social media and the armed forces. Should these men and women be banned from using these social networks? Are their benefits to having the military on social media? What are the negatives?

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Jillian Ryan

Jillian Ryan is PRIVATE WiFi's Director, Brand Communications and Social Strategy. With a passion for writing, the web, and fast-paced information exchanged via social networks, Jillian is also concerned about the ramifications of putting your life details and personal data into cyberspace. Follow her on Twitter: @Writing_Jillian.