The development of the World Wide Web has been a communication boon to military families who are now able to use its technology as a means to stay closer to their deployed service member. What many don’t recognize is, without careful use, internet activities can also put their service member and others at risk.
The motto “Loose Lips May Sink Ships,” was originally devised by the Navy during WWII to drive home the importance of operational security (OPSEC). In its most basic form, OPSEC is concerned with keeping information out of the hands of those who would use it to do harm. The famous WWII motto is just as important in achieving OPSEC today as it was back then, although the internet presents brand new challenges to security that never would have been considered during its original inception.
The abundance of family home pages, message boards, mailing lists and chat rooms make it easy and fun to share information, resources and friendship with others in the military community. Cyber-support is never further than a few mouse clicks away, and can be a lifesaver for families of reservists or active duty filling assignments that take them outside the military support system.
The downfall of this seemingly innocent communication is, “information posted may be intended only for an internal audience – perhaps even a very small and very specific group of people. But on the Net, it’s available to the world,” according to Paul Stone, American Forces Information Service.
When you make information available on the web, you can never truly be sure who has access to it – or of their intentions. The friendly spouse you’re chatting with online may be exactly who she claims to be. Then again, she may not. Resist the temptation to disclose unnecessary information about your spouse and his or her job. Don’t allow pride in your loved one to become a means for endangering them.
When participating in online communities or building a personal web site, use caution in revealing information about yourself and your family. Avoid disclosure of your last name and location, discussion of specific unit information, movements, or dates, deployment information or base security measures. And don’t forget about pictures – while photographs are fun to share, always bear in mind a picture is worth a thousand words. Make sure those words are ones you mean to communicate.
If you correspond with your spouse through email or instant messages, keep in mind such connections are not secure and avoid discussion of sensitive information. The same is true of online chat rooms.
Air Force Lt. Col. Buzz Walsh remarked, “The biggest mistake people make [on the internet] is they don’t understand how easy it is to aggregate information.”
Like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces don’t mean much individually, information can be put together to determine a more complete picture. Seemingly insignificant details can become very important when they’re the final pieces of the puzzle.
Compromise of military operations is not the only feared result of OPSEC violations. The Department of Defense is also concerned for the safety of families who may unwittingly become targets of hostility because of their connection to the military.
Military spouses should be smart, not scared, when it comes to online communications. Precautionary measures are meant to ensure safety, not cause unnecessary anxiety.
If you have questions about OPSEC and appropriate communications, contact your command family support liaison for more information.