We are connected. The whole world is connected to each other in ways that it never has been before. As military families, this comes as a double-edged sword, it is much easier to stay in touch with our service members when they are deployed or far away in training. It is easier to stay connected with family members when we have PCS’d to a base or post thousands of miles away. But it also creates security risks for the men and women serving our country and the families back at home.
The people that want to harm the United States and our military service members stop at no lengths to find information related to deployments, missions, and movement both overseas and here at home. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter make this easy for them to do because many service members and their families do not mind Operational Security (OPSEC). OPSEC is a method of maintaining security for our armed forces by refraining from posting or otherwise discussing deployment dates, movement of our forces, details of missions, or any information that may lead to the harm of our service members.
Although a single post such as “Only 2 more weeks!” or unlabeled countdown ticker may be seemingly innocent, those against us are smart. They look for connections and related posts to find the information they need. That post saying, “Only 2 more weeks!” is connected with a post you made about missing your spouse, which is connected to a post you made about deployments being difficult, which is connected to a post you made about it being “the worst day ever” when your spouse left. With this information plus your pictures, location, groups, and pages, terrorists can find more information than you may think.
Many believe that setting their privacy settings on social media sites eliminates these risks. However, hacking software becomes more sophisticated every single day, and setting privacy settings oftentimes do not deter the most determined of terrorists. If you have a wireless connection, even with a security code as protection, hackers can still access your computer and any information on it with a few swipes of their keypads. That is why some branches of the military are taking a proactive approach to maintaining OPSEC on social media sites.
The United States Marine Corps has recently instilled a new office in their command sector that focuses on OPSEC and social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, forums and message boards, and the like. These Marines are trained to look at and create connections that those against the US could possibly create using information they find from these sites. It is their job to make the connections and shut down any user or page in which they are able to make logical conclusions of deployment information or mission details. With this, the Marine Corps hopes to increase the awareness of OPSEC as well as continue to maintain the safety and security of our forces.
Although social media sites are a breeding ground for OPSEC mistakes, there are other situations in which it is important to remember to maintain these security measures. When in public areas, it is important to not discuss any information you may have regarding deployments, trainings, or missions. For personal safety of the family members back home, never tell anyone whom you do not know and trust that your significant other is deployed. It is also recommended that you do not place yellow ribbons on your home, place stickers on your car (i.e., “Half my heart is in Iraq/Afghanistan”), or wear clothing that indicates you are a family member of a service member. Be careful in the details of your emails and correspondences with others (e.g., letters, message boards, and/or forums) that you do not delve into too much detail that may violate OPSEC. Although this may seems like extreme measures, it is for the well-being and safety of those at home and those deployed.
Please remember that as a family member of a service member, it is our job to hold the fort on the homefront. Maintaining OPSEC is of utmost importance to keeping our loved ones from harm.