DOD rethinking social-media access

Security, other concerns worry officials

With concerns mounting over security and management, the Defense Department is reevaluating its policies on use of social media tools. Sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, once banned from DOD use, now play a major role for government and military public relations and recruiting. However, the threat of security breaches stemming from wide-open access could lessen Web 2.0’s appeal.

U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the use of the dot-mil network, has launched a review of the safety of the sites. The command acknowledged in media reports last week that it was doing so, but has otherwise remained mum on the topic.

“There certainly are security concerns associated with social networking. But it would be a step back to ban social networks completely,” said information technology security expert Rohyt Belani, a consultant and instructor at Carnegie-Mellon University. “I think there is a middle ground that can be reached.”

Security fears largely center on the familiar possibility of hackers infiltrating networks with sensitive information, particularly via phishing scams that dupe computer users into downloading viruses, clicking links to malware or entering secure information. But Web 2.0 brings an additional concern: People sharing too much information online, such as the case of incoming British intelligence chief John Sawers, whose wife posted personal information and photos on Facebook that have landed Sawers in serious hot water.

“People are not aware of the ramifications of putting up all of this personal information without privacy settings,” said Belani, who advocates proper training for the safe use of social networks. “But there are ways to use social media safely and effectively.”

“As a retired Army colonel and a Ph.D. in computer science, I’m really glad I’m not the one that has to deal with this problem,” said Ray Vaughn, a professor of computer science and engineering at Mississippi State University. “I’m more concerned with why the DOD feels a need to allow unfettered access to such sites over dot-mil networks. I would be concerned about the use of military computers for personal social networking.”

Still, despite the serious worries, social media has become a force to be reckoned with. Since the 2007 reversal of an initial ban on social networking sites, military and government have become deeply entrenched in social media tools, with hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook fans of various military and government outfits. And in June the Army ordered all U.S. bases allow Facebook access.

“I would not want to see DOD restrict the use of such sites for organized and monitored use as a communication mechanism. Such sites can be used to recruit or broadcast useful information to constituency groups. But these kinds of activities can be done in a controlled, accountable, and planned manner,” Vaughn added.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

Reader comments

Tue, Aug 4, 2009 Aaron Helton Washington, DC

It seems there is a ripe market for web 2.0 tools that can be used on (and deployed within) government controlled networks. We are starting to see some possibilities, like OMB's program performance, but these are the tip of the iceberg. E-gov solutions should be a mix of G2C/C2G, G2G, and G2B/B2G such that agencies can leverage these technologies in their interactions with one another, with citizens, and with private corporations with whom they have dealings. In an event, what is really missing is a set of tools and services that can be deployed behind firewalls. They may still end up with some security problems, but at least if they are controlled from within, it's much easier to shut down until the problems are resolved.

Mon, Aug 3, 2009 Jane Smith Los Angeles County

I appreciate the information. Nevertheless... so much deception! It is un-American. Yet, your article addresses only a tiny portion of the real problem. Our Forefathers were honorable men ("sacred honor"). As you know, DHS uses the social network sites to engage and "envelope" targets using unethical means, such as by "befriending" targets with phony "like-minded" statements ...and links (such as this one), accessing their friends and contacts, issuing inflamatory communications, judging the targets upon unsophisticated typing systems which cannot express intonation and the like, etc., without even having proof that the target has violated any Constitutional law (for instance: a liberal DHS Director targeting conservatives for expressing an opposing political stance). Utilizing social media is an unessential and un-American method of learning any essential truth on behalf of the US Government, which ought to be above such trivia and underhandedness. Moreover, (and I am not, at all, afraid to say so) in so doing, DHS comes to their target with the information, even if unintentionally ...which is not the same matter as a suspect infiltrating "government" sites. Once DHS distributes information on a public social network site, their information is already in the public domain. And... "The People" have a right to be informed of all unconstitutional activity by our Government officials (News, etc.). Genuinely personal use of Facebook is one thing, however, official government use of Facebook, et alii, is not, literally (and, thus, technically (=)), a Constitutional function, by any stretch of the imagination, and, therefore, is unconstitutional. As such, be careful to keep your facts (=) straight and your eye on our Forefathers ...America is legally defined, solely, by the strict literal (=) parameters of the Constitution, punctuation included. <== period. Concentrate, instead, upon securing all official government sites from infiltration; that is NOT unconstitutional.

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