Social media: The military’s smoking gun

Careless talk

By Kevin Bailey, Head of Market Strategy.

How many pictures of military personnel and locations have been paraded on the national news, newspapers, and propaganda posters amongst many other visual forms of communication over the last couple of years? Visualized as a way to let the folks at home know that their loved ones are safe and well and taking the lead on behalf of the government within whatever conflict they have been deployed.

During the 1939 Great War there was a different approach to ‘free speech’ and divulging images of troop location and activities. It was not allowed! Any information obtained by the ‘enemy’ was treated like gold dust. Hence the need by all nations to encrypt even the most mundane communications and the importance of British efforts at the Bletchley Park research station during the War. Decryption of the Enigma Cipher allowed the Allies to read important parts of German radio traffic on important networks and was an invaluable source of military intelligence throughout the War.

A similar break into an important Japanese cipher (PURPLE) by the US Army Signals Intelligence Service started before the US entered the War. It was the highest security Japanese diplomatic cipher. So with the advancements in military strategy, armament and intelligence, why have the military top-brass forgotten the #1 rule in military conflicts ‘Careless talk costs lives’?

Sunday 6th July, The Telegraph reported that ‘members of the armed forces have leaked confidential information on Twitter and Facebook’. The reporter Ben Farmer, highlighted ‘the blunders’ by members of the armed forces that risked compromising operations and national security by leaking patrol times, details of sensitive visits and photos of restricted areas. The fact that confidential information was posted is unfortunately correct; the risks that could have ensued, the same. However, highly trained military personnel do not go out of their way ‘to blunder’, they were simply conversing with their colleagues, family and friends using the network channels available in the 21st century.

Some of the greatest strategists have started their careers in the armed forces, but in truth, the forces are not a democracy, you go where you are told and you do what you are told. Apparently the Armed Forces and MoD work under strict rules about using such networks, for fear they are combed by foreign agents and enemies looking for information on the military and operations. But if these strict rules are applied and the forces personnel are informed about how their interactions will be monitored and blocked, how can the foot soldier, pilot or seaman be deemed as having ‘blundered’

The blunder lays squarely with those who implement these and many other communication policies. This is no different to the commercial world where the leakage of intellectual property and personal information can have a dramatic impact on a business and/or the confidential nature of an individual’s health, financial, personal and employability statuses.

Enforcement is second nature to the military, they expect things to be enforced and they are expected to enforce. So when guidelines and rules are communicated, those in charge need to ensure that critical information cannot be divulged to external actors without intention.

The enforcement of critical information protection is a must and should be underpinned by a solid information governance strategy. Utilizing methodologies such as context-aware data loss prevention techniques that are automatically adaptive to the environment, the sender, the recipient, the content, the communication channel amongst others is the minimum that armed forces and commercial personnel should expect their leaders to implement. Keeping the enemy truly outside and not being mistaken as ‘an enemy within’. Moreover, ensuring that morale is kept high where they can communicate to their loved ones, friends and colleagues, without being branded as a ‘blunderer’!