Blog post

Military and Social Media: Paranoia or Schizophrenia?

By Andrea Di Maio | August 04, 2009 | 0 Comments

social networks in government

After some initial rumors last week that the U.S. Department of Defense planned to ban the use of social media like Facebook and Twitter from its networks, it appears that the U.S. Marine Corps has taken such step and declared a ban for at least one year.

The order says (in capital letters)

2.  BACKGROUND.  INTERNET SNS ARE DEFINED AS WEB-BASED SERVICES THAT ALLOW COMMUNITIES OF PEOPLE TO SHARE COMMON INTERESTS AND/OR EXPERIENCES (EXISTING OUTSIDE OF DOD NETWORKS) OR FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO EXPLORE INTERESTS AND BACKGROUND DIFFERENT FROM THEIR OWN.  THESE INTERNET SITES IN GENERAL ARE A PROVEN HAVEN FOR MALICIOUS ACTORS AND CONTENT AND ARE PARTICULARLY HIGH RISK DUE TO INFORMATION EXPOSURE, USER GENERATED CONTENT AND TARGETING BY ADVERSARIES.  THE VERY NATURE OF SNS CREATES A LARGER ATTACK AND EXPLOITATION WINDOW, EXPOSES UNNECESSARY INFORMATION TO ADVERSARIES AND PROVIDES AN EASY CONDUIT FOR INFORMATION LEAKAGE THAT PUTS OPSEC, COMSEC, PERSONNEL AND THE MCEN AT AN ELEVATED RISK OF COMPROMISE.  EXAMPLES OF INTERNET SNS SITES INCLUDE FACEBOOK, MYSPACE, AND TWITTER.
3. ACTIONS.  TO MEET THE REQUIREMENTS OF REF A, ACCESS IS HEREBY PROHIBITED TO INTERNET SNS FROM THE MCEN NIPRNET, INCLUDING OVER VIRTUAL PRIVATE NETWORK (VPN) CONNECTIONS.

 

This comes only two and a half months after a U.S. Army Order allowing access to five social media sites (including Facebook and Twitter), which I covered in a previous post. It looks like positions across the DoD are different, but some commentators say that the U.S. Marine Corps’ example may be followed by others pretty soon.

My colleague Anthony Bradley has already posted on his blog, asking some fundamental questions about the inevitable trade offs between benefits and risks. And in an internal email discussion John Pescatore pointed to an earlier blog post about the Air Force disconnecting Maxwell Base from the Internet back in February.

While many may see this just as a reflection of the schizophrenic attitude of military organizations toward the use of social media, I suspect that we will see many changes of sentiment also in civilian government organizations too. As I said previously, I am working on a presentation about the darker side of government 2.0, and security concerns are amongst the most immediate. If information is leaked or network security is compromised, in a military environment lives may be at stake. As my colleague John Pescatore reminded us:

There has been a lot of innocent leakage onto Facebook pages, Twitter and the like that easily allow someone to piece together potential troop movements and the like or identify soldiers families at home, etc.

Actually this is an issue also for law enforcement officers, social workers and other government employees in particularly delicate roles. As I have said many times, effective participation in social networks discourages the use of alternative “professional” identities, but – again – the trade off between risks and benefits needs to be articulated early on.

Incidentally, as a proof that this is a very difficult area to govern, according to an associated press article, it seems that the ban does not affect use of such tools on personally-owned devices on public networks (e.g. home or at Starbucks). So marines are still able to leak information the same way John pointed out above, unless they are banned from using social media anywhere at any time.

 

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