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OPSEC in the Social Media Age

In late January, Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein released a joint memorandum on operational security and the renewed need to protect sensitive and classified information.

“Clearly in times past, we have sought to protect key operational details, but today’s informative standard should be more cautious, and we need your enduring vigilance to ensure compliance,” the memo stated.

One of the areas Reserve Citizen Airmen must be vigilant in when it comes to operational security is social media. Erick Holloway, Air Force Reserve Command OPSEC program manager, explained Reservists have a special responsibility to maintain OPSEC even when off-duty in their civilian roles.

“Even though a private sector job may not be as close-hold with the information they share, the same OPSEC principles that are practiced while in uniform should be applied,” Holloway said. “A major take away for a Reservist is to always be aware of what is discussed around individuals without a need to know.”

In the social media environment, discussions are never private and can become public even without the knowledge of all parties involved. In most instances things posted on the internet and social media are there permanently.

“While it can be fun, entertaining and useful for maintaining relationships, social media has become one of our greatest operational security weaknesses,” he said. “OPSEC should always play a big role in how social media is used. Everyone must remain cautious when posting personal and work-related information.”

He said the goal is not to stop Citizen Airmen from using social media, but to ensure all Reservists are properly trained on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of posting and communicating on social media.

The type of information an individual should never share on social media includes specific locations of a residence or workplace, detailed job descriptions, upcoming travel plans, and personal data such as date of birth, social security number and banking information. Other common practices to avoid on social media are listing family members, employment history and job titles, and posting photos of your home or work area.

According to studies sited by Holloway, more than 70 percent of all adults use some type of social media and almost 90 percent of 18 to 29 year olds use social media. In saying that, those numbers encompass the majority of the Reserve force. Regardless of age, Holloway has additional tips for all Reservists who use social media. He recommends disabling geo-location tagging on applications that use it, never post photos of deployed locations, do not accept friend or follower requests from unknown individuals, always remain professional and report any sensitive or critical information found on social media.

“Although most sites have improved privacy settings, Citizen Airman still run the risk of the wrong people seeing what they post due to complacency or lack of know-how,” he said. “It is each member’s responsibility to ensure external web site applications that are enabled on personal devices only have access to noncritical information.”

As social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, just to name a few, keep advancing technologically, it has become increasingly more important now than ever to practice good OPSEC when online.

With the adversaries’ collection methods becoming more sophisticated in the social media landscape, it can be a challenge to keep up. Holloway suggests if Reservists have questions about practicing good OPSEC while using social media, they should contact their unit-level OPSEC coordinator. If questions still exist, they can consult with the wing or headquarters OPSEC program manager.

“Adversaries are very interested in gathering insight into what vulnerabilities can be exploited,” he said. “The more that is shared on social media the easier it is for the bad guys to gather critical information.”