A lonely soldier meets a woman on Facebook. According to her profile photo, she's gorgeous, so naturally he accepts her friend request. The soldier has all sorts of privacy controls in place, so he feels pretty confident in the information he posts via social media. His status updates and images contain geotags, but that's okay, since he's only sharing that information with friends.
The problem is, that attractive woman he friended may have been a tech-savvy Taliban. According to a report released by the Australian government, Taliban insurgents are pretending to be ‘attractive women’ online in order to gather information -- and soldiers are largely unaware of Facebook's risk factors when it comes to modern warfare.
Australian and coalition troops are being given pre-deployment warnings that they're being targeted online by the Taliban, and that relying on Facebook's privacy settings gives soldiers a "false sense of security." According to the report,
Media personnel and enemies create fake profiles to gather information. For example, the Taliban have used pictures of attractive women as the front of their Facebook profiles and have befriended soldiers
The report also claims that soldiers’ families and friends are also unknowingly putting personnel at risk and compromising missions by sharing information online, like names, ranks, and locations. Included in the report was a survey of 1,577 military personnel, which found that soldiers largely “did not recognize that people using fake profiles (ie, Taliban posing as random hotties, or even old school friends) ... could capture information and movements."
Geotagging -- the process that embeds location data inside a post or photo -- has become a real issue, with one security expert saying that the information "can be data-mined and sold to anybody."
Social media has definitely bitten the U.S. military in the ass before. As Wired reports, soldiers in Iraq uploaded photos of Apache gunship helicopters in 2007 -- and as it turned out, the photos included embedded GPS data. The Army has since admitted, “The enemy was able to determine the exact location of the helicopters inside the compound and conduct a mortar attack, destroying four of the AH-64 Apaches."
So, what's the takeaway from all this? It seems like the same warning often given to citizens is particularly applicable to military personnel: be careful what you share online. Militaries will continue providing safety briefs on social media, but it's possible that this report will lead to a bigger crackdown on soldiers' ability to stay connected with friends and family. In fact, according to some troops, social media use by the military should be banned altogether, instead of attempting to educate every soldier on the pitfalls of friending the wrong people.
What do you think about the idea that military personnel should be banned from using social media? Do you think it would be fair to make that restriction?
Image via Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr