For feds, the real-life perils of social media

The State Department trains its workers to avoid social media fails that could potentially be fatal.

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Social media fails can be more than just embarrassing. For government officials and contractors, especially those working abroad, there are more urgent dangers to consider.

"These social media sites do put that bullseye on you if you are not careful," Terence Clapp, a State Department information assurance instructor, told an audience at 1105 Media's Acquire conference in Washington, D.C.

Clapp stressed that basic care and social media hygiene can help keep users and families out of harm's way. He used the example of a fake Facebook profile that was created where several government workers ended up giving up critical location and other personal information. He noted that terrorist groups such as Taliban and the Islamic State use fake profiles to friend and track military members in hopes of obtaining information on their activities.

"They are using social media to target our military families and anybody working for the United States government," he said.

Social media carelessness can also have geopolitical implications.  A young Russian soldier forgot to turn off the geo-tag location option on his device before posting photos on Instagram, for example; this later revealed that Russian forces were providing military support for rebels in Ukraine in 2014, which Russian president Vladimir Putin had aggressively denied. Clapp also mentioned how a 16-year-old hacker was able to gain access into the personal emails for the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

"You cannot be too careful," Clapp said. "Sometimes even innocent data….isn't as private as you think it is." He talked to the audience about what methods they can use to better boost their security on social websites, including using a generic profile photo and disabling mobile device wifi and Bluetooth in sketchy locations.

Clapp also suggested that government workers should shy away from adding people on social media networks that they do not know, never give out information regarding the type of clearance they have and always use strong passwords.

The State Department holds various training and classes on social media and cybersecurity. Recently, the agency's cyber bureau held a week-long intensive cybersecurity training for over a 100 Foreign Service Officers stationed across the globe.

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