OPSEC: How to keep your information safe in an age of sharing:
OPSEC & PERSEC: If you’re in a military or contractor family then you probably know what that word means. Hopefully, you’ve heard it before! However, many spouses don’t understand what this means or how important it truly is to safety and security.
OPSEC stands for Operational Security. It does NOT only apply to our spouse’s jobs. It applies to everyone in all walks of life; in the age of social media where “sharing” is all the rage, it’s difficult to not get caught up in that. Most people don’t understand how much information they are sharing with people who frankly don’t need to know!
Think about all the apps that are on your phone that is asking for information. Facebook wants to know where you are, so does twitter. Foursquare is to show people where you are ON PURPOSE! This is ridiculous. The top Apps in the app store are Facebook Messenger, snap chat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and other social media “sharing” apps. They all have privacy settings that no one reads because they’re pages and pages of legal nonsense. Instagram came out with a change of picture ownership last year that meant that if I posted a picture of my son to Instagram, I no longer owned the picture OF MY SON! Instagram did!
Now, in complete transparently, this might have changed, but I uninstalled it last year when that came to light. Let’s be honest with ourselves, shall we? These things are a luxurious time-suck. They’re not a necessity to have or be a part of. Facebook Messenger has been accused of tracking your location, what you type/say, what words you use, pictures you send etc. They’re data mining you based on your PERSONAL messages! My husband and I deleted that app from our phones a while ago but I still have the Facebook app on my phone. This category is OPSEC is called PERSEC, which stands for PERSONAL SECURITY. Because it’s personal!
Although these apps are unnecessarily nosey it’s not 100% their fault. We, as consumers (app users), need to careful of what we post! First, I would limit the access that the app has to your phone. Does Facebook really need access to your contacts? NO! Camera? Yes, at times, but not 24/7! I would also turn off the locator attached to this app! You can do this on your iPhone by going to SETTINGS>PRIVACY>LOCATION SERVICES, from here you can pick and choose what apps have your location! Of all the apps on my iPhone, my weather apps are the only ones who have full access to my location, for obvious reasons. The reason I have it set up this way? BECAUSE THE OTHER APPS DON’T NEED TO KNOW! Did you know that SIRI stores what you say for 2-4 YEARS each time you ask her something!? I have her turned off, which also means turning off voice-to-text, which is super annoying, but that’s the price you pay for security. Just because there is an option to give that information does NOT mean that you have too! Protect your privacy. Protect your family. Again, this falls under PERSEC.
Every time you post on twitter, or Facebook, or foursquare, or any other social media apps you have to get into the habit of thinking the following: How can someone use this information to hurt me or my family? I guarantee that you will stop posting most things. Let me share an example of someone getting your information to use it wrongly. Say you post a status like this: “OMGSH! Can’t wait for vacation in TWO days!! Hello, Hawaii for TWO weeks! Holla!” I would never speak like this, but that’s not my point. Add your location to that status and it will look something like this:
Jane Doe: “OMGSH! Can’t wait for vacation in TWO days!! Hello Hawaii for TWO weeks! Holla” in Springfield, Missouri.
Now depending on your privacy settings on Facebook or twitter, someone who isn’t a “friend” or “follower” could see this status without knowing you or being connection to you. Even if they know you, they could still want to take advantage of the information that you have willingly provided. Now with this information I can Google Springfield Missouri and find out that it is in Greene County.
From here I can Google the Greene County Assessor’s Office.
I’ve highlighted the link to the assessor’s office here. What information can I find here you might ask?! EVERYTHING! Especially if you own your home. That information is public record. All I need to do is to type in your name and it will give me your address! Click On assessor’s Office.
See on the top under “ASSESSOR” where it says name search and address search! You can find that info!
This is what you’ll see when you click the “address search” option. Obviously if I type in the name “Jane Doe” I’m not going to find anything, but almost every county in the country has a website like this. It’s public record! ANYONE could find this information on your social media account and use it to break into your house, knowing that you’re on vacation, or worse, wait until you’re home. My point isn’t to scare you, but to inform you that information is everywhere. YOUR information is everywhere. It’s a daily fight to keep it secret/private.
Opsec is a little broader of something to watch out for, outside of PERSEC. I look at Opsec having to do with my husband’s career. Although not much of it is “super-secret squirrel dark ops” he wants it kept personal, so we keep it personal; simple as that. When people ask me what he does I don’t like. I simply answer a question that they didn’t ask. My conversations go like this usually:
Them: “So what does your husband do?”
Me: “Army” with a simply ‘please don’t ask me more’ smile, but they always do;)
Them: “Oh my my! What does he do?”
Them: “Well when is he coming home?”
Me: “Soon I hope!”
Them: “Is he home often?”
Me: “Not enough, but that’s the military.”
Them: “Where is he stationed?”
Me: “Middle east somewhere.” With a ‘I dunno’ shrug.
And that usually ends it! Now what I did NOT tell them was, 1) Where he is stationed. 2) What he does exactly. 3) What organization/branch he works for/with. 4) When he comes and goes. BUT I didn’t lie!
Ladies, this is a great way to protect your husband; If not his physical life at least his solitude around people. I guarantee that when he is home, he doesn’t want to be talking about work to everyone and their mother. Please do not take for granted that in keeping your lips sealed you could literally be saving his life. You’ve heard the term “loose lips sink ships”. That statement is absolutely true in every sense of the word.
OPSEC means not telling everyone when your husband (or family member) is coming home, or from where he is traveling from. OPSEC means not telling all your friends what exactly your husband does…. Women talk…. A LOT. If you’re talking to them, who are they talking too? You can’t stop them from talking, but you can stop yourself from giving that vital information out. OPSEC does not mean lying. OPSEC means being judicial with the information you have as to not harm your family or your spouse and/or their careers.
There are several family members and friends who know all the information that I’ve alluded to in this post. But we have taken the time to explain to them how important it is to help us protect my husband and his career. We have grown to trust them. We have had to talk to a few of those people when they’ve shared something that we weren’t comfortable with. But you have to understand that people, who aren’t in the military/contractor life, don’t fully understand why this is important. They don’t get why telling their girlfriends information can be damaging. They don’t get why bragging to a buddy about another buddy’s job is damaging. They don’t understand why it’s not only damaging but disrespectful. With these people you have to sit them down and explain why divulging these things can’t happen again. Yet if it does, you know better than to keep giving them information. So either filter what info you give them or quit all together. You may have to even cut ties with them all together. That’s harsh and extreme, but you do what you have to do to protect your family.
OPSEC in day to day life can be a challenge; especially if you haven’t had any formal training on it. But having a clear understanding of what “bad guys” capabilities are, with your personal information, is critical to understanding why it is so important. OPSEC was invented to keep people safe. It doesn’t mean that all information protected by OPSEC is classified, much the opposite. Here is an example that I found in the ioss (interagency opsec support staff) “OPSEC FOR TRAVELERS” guide:
“Many people believe that if information is not classified, it is ok to share. However, this is not at all accurate. Let’s look at an example involving unclassified information. Would you post your full name, date of birth, and social security number on a bulletin board or web site? Would you tape the code to your home’s alarm system to your front door? Of course not! Is any of this information classified? No, but you understand the hard that could come from sharing that information with strangers, so you keep it secure. Whether you’ve realized it or not, you’ve been practicing OPSEC!”
Frankly, this says it perfectly. Just because you can share information doesn’t mean that you should. You see, OPSEC is threat driven. This means that we military/contractor spouses MUST practice OPSEC to protect our families against threats! Whether the threats be foreign or domestic terrorists, criminal counter intelligence, plain criminals, or identity thief’s, there are threats! OPSEC is essential to maintaining the element of surprise in most situations. Keep your information secure. Please. If not for you, then do it for your soldier. Our guys deserve to be protected. What we share innocently on Social Media can hurt them in tremendous, and some time fatal, ways.
I know I touched briefly on OPSEC and Social Media earlier, but below is a link from the United States Army called “OPSEC and safe social networking”. I implore you to read it. It’s a great, simple explanation of what to post, why it’s important to exclude some information, and what “bad guys” can do with it.