Ten short years ago, social media was virtually unknown. MySpace was barely a year old and little more than a high tech dating site. Facebook was just being developed and only available on select college campuses. Fast forward to 2014 and social media is literally everywhere. MySpace and Facebook have been joined by Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat and dozens of other sites which allow members to post daily activities minute by minute and picture by picture. More importantly, these same sites allow the world to see your activities (and much more) real time – sometimes without you even realizing it.
As social media has grown, so has its potential danger to operational security. During World War II, factory workers were warned that “loose lips sink ships.” Today’s loose lips are posts, tweets and updates. Although it is unrealistic to think the threat can be eliminated, it can, and should, be managed by not only the unit but individual members as well.
We are all well aware of basic internet security – change your password regularly, do not use your birthday as a pin number, do not post personal information, etc, but do you know that social media may actually be tracking your location?
You’re On the Grid
Anyone who has ever posted to Facebook is familiar with this function, if for no other reason than because you are asked to add your location or “check in” each time you update your status. But what many users do not realize is much of this information is collected automatically whether you know it or not. Unless you take some simple precautions, every picture, video or post you make includes a detailed grid location. Many applications also collect location data on regular intervals throughout the day as they run in the background.
Not only do most social media sites collect location data, but they also share this information with advertisers. Did you ever wonder how you can be walking around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor with your family and post a picture of the waterfront to your Facebook page, only to find an ad for Hardrock Café shows up a split second later? It’s because your account location information told the advertisers you were nearby, and this information is available to anyone with minimal training and access to your account.
It is virtually impossible to use social media and remain off the grid. Of course you could turn off your phone or other mobile device, but we have come to depend on our smartphones and tablets both professionally and personally, and often use the same device to access Twitter during down time as we use for intel during operations. However, there are some simple steps you can take to limit your exposure.
- Disable GPS – Smartphones, tablets and most laptops now include a GPS function which is not only necessary when using navigation programs but a key component to geotracking. Shutting off this function is the first step to limiting your exposure.
- Verify settings – Each social media site manages member settings differently, but most default to a more open rather than restrictive level. Check your account setting frequently, especially after network updates.
- Avoid public access – Accessing the internet or social media sites via public Wi-Fi at hotels, airports, or restaurants reduces your ability to control privacy settings. Furthermore, these connections are more prone to hacking.
- Do not be too friendly – Resist the temptation to friend or connect with everyone who requests it. Accepting strangers into your circle also grants them greater access to your information.
- Avoid add-ons or links – Clicking on links to games, surveys or advertisements increases your risk in two manners. One, they are developed by third parties who may or may not practice the same levels of security as the main site provider. Two, the application itself may cause your own settings to be changed to allow its own use.
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