OCTOBER 31, 2016, PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) – “Get out of the way; get DOWN!”
Shouts echoed down the airfield, punctuated by dull thudding in the distance. The hangars echoed the howling of the incoming rounds as the Soldiers scrambled under them. Only a few short moments before, pilots and mechanics alike had been working on their newly arrived flight of helicopters.
The explosions began near the fence line, obliterating dirt and runway. The mortar rounds fell closer and closer, finding their mark in a few short moments. The screech of tearing metal and flying parts pierced the air as one of the four AH-64 Apache helicopters was struck, helpless on the tarmac. After the smoke cleared from the barrage, all four of the squadron’s helicopters lain in ruin.
By the end of the day, captured insurgents revealed they received GPS data from social media and used it to discover which base the Apaches were at. A spotter, a mortar tube, and a cellphone destroyed a combined $140 million worth of American equipment. The picture the insurgents used was uploaded by a service member, excited to see Apaches land at his operating base.
Aboard aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), the command is committed to ensuring operational information stays out of the enemies’ hands. Ship information should never go in an email, over the phone, or be posted on social media to prevent a scenario just like the Apaches.
“When service members fail to practice operational security (OPSEC) or fail to recognize violations, their complacency can lead to grave damage to national security,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Dolores Ruizleon, leading petty officer of Operations Signals Division aboard Nimitz. “Vigilance against insider threats, as well as outsider infiltration is a commitment we have made as members of the military.”
Small pieces of operational information can be pieced together to create a big problem for a Sailor, or even an entire unit.
Improperly tagged photos and videos of military equipment can be used by adversaries to prepare attacks against forward-deployed units. Messages home can be used to give normally unaware enemies a view into deployment schedules.
Personal details such as birthdays or hometowns, posted on social media sites, could be used to bypass password restrictions on banking webpages. Vacation and leave dates indicate when homes are empty and vulnerable to break-ins. Information about network outages, important personnel coming aboard, and even training schedules could be used by a spy, terrorist, or the media in negative ways.
“What we all have to remember is that every Sailor is a cyber warrior,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson. “… it just takes one person to make a mistake; that mistake can be exploited and the network can be severely damaged by one person’s lapse in concentration.”
Everyone can help keep OPSEC by following a few basic guidelines. Develop ways for your family to communicate without revealing exact dates and times. Building a code-card for days of the week to speak with families at home is one consistent method. Using the ship’s ombudsman or the Family Readiness Group (FRG) to communicate with loved ones is another method to pass information. Being aware of where your information is going and how it’s getting there is also a vital step to basic OPSEC.
Diligence in OPSEC is key to our collective safety. While it may seem like a confusing and unnecessary subject, the enemy won’t always be forgiving to a lapse in security. Every day the Navy is under attack, it is our job as Sailors to join in the fight against the enemy — in the cyber world and real one.