September 3, 2015, by D.M. McCauley – With network firewall breaches and cybercrime on the rise, maintaining Operational Security (OPSEC) is more important than ever for Soldiers and Sailors. Our lives and social media have become increasingly entwined, and it is easy to let slip sensitive information that could jeopardize the mission at hand. Private servers can be hacked and sensitive unclassified documents can leak. Such a gaffe can harm your military career and result in judicial punishment. Preventing data breaches before they happen is the basis of Operational Security. Every completed puzzle begins with a few small pieces. By the same token, repeated small innocuous unclassified leaks can grow to form a greater classified security breach.
The U.S. Military has embraced social media. Used correctly, it can become a tool for reaching a vast audience. The internet allows us to share content at a speed and magnitude previously only dreamed of. This is a true double-edged sword, as open-source intel (OSINT) provides more than 80% of the information used by the intelligence communities of the world.
Your internet conduct is a direct reflection of you and your Command. Anything you say online can and will be used against you should it cast negative or dangerous light upon your Branch of Service. There is no way of knowing who may see your post. Seemingly innocent posts on social media can contain dangerous information. A single mistake can leak locations, maneuvers, operations, deployments, and strengths. Once posted you lose all control over that information. Even deleting a post from Facebook does not permanently remove it from their database, as Facebook records everything you say, do, and visit while in their domain.
OPSEC applies to every action you take. It must be applied to your relationships, network, computer systems, planning procedures, and all communication. It must be practiced deliberately and consistently. Assume you are being watched and act accordingly.
An insidious way that information can unintentionally be leaked is through geo-tagging. Many modern smartphones, cameras, and tech devices will record your geographical location. This is often visible in the image file properties or included social media posts, and it can potentially reveal the location of a classified operation. This is best evidenced by the Russian soldier who took a selfie in Ukraine, despite assertions from Vladimir Putin’s Administration that they were not there. Soldiers and other professionals with access to sensitive and often classified information must be vigilant at all times when handling such material.
How do we prevent the leak of sensitive information? As a deterrent to external leaks, intelligence and military organizations typically employ in-house cybersecurity specialists combined with sophisticated firewalls, intranet, and backup measures. Some organizations maintain large hard-copy paper databases since the safeguarding of such is more straightforward.
Before any military personnel or government official is granted access to classified information, they must participate in a lengthy and in-depth briefing that outlines the proper information handling procedures. They sign and verify that they will obey the rules and regulations of material handling and dissemination. A key component of this agreement is that you will only access and discuss such information (and related information) in designated secure areas, using specifically purposed and secured systems.
Vigilantly guard your clearance and sensitive information by remaining cautious about what information you share and store online. Discretion is often the better part of valor.
About the Author: D.M. McCauley is a former U.S. Navy sailor who worked in Intel. After the service he has dedicated his time to writing and traveling with his significant other.
Photo Credit: U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht/Released