Social media and DOD: To be or not to be?

DOD's indecision on social-media tools continues

The Defense Department continues to send mixed signals about social-media tools. Just weeks after the Marine Corps banned the technology on all official computers and networks, DOD launched a new home page that uses social media heavily, much like the White House’s new Web site.

Hackers need social time, too

Social-networking sites have leapfrogged over government and law enforcement Web sites to become the No. 1 target of hackers. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter fall in the category of the most-attacked sites, accounting for 19 percent of all attacks on the Internet, according to a study by Breach Security. The study covers the first half of 2009.

Social/Web 2.0 - 19%
Media - 16%
Technology - 12%
Internet - 12%
Government/politics - 12%
Retail – 12%
Entertainment - 7%
Finance - 5%
Education - 5%

Source: Breach Security’s Web Hacking Incidents Database 2009

Meanwhile, the results of the review ordered by Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn to examine the potential threats and benefits associated with social media are due Aug. 31.

Several experts said DOD officials’ conflicted attitude toward the emerging technology is to be expected.

“During the early days of e-mail, the DOD — and other agencies that are very sensitive to security — was very nervous about having and using e-mail,” said Scott Testa, a professor of business at Cabrini College in Philadelphia. “After a while, when there was a comfort level, things loosened up.”

Testa said he expects the Marine Corps to ease its stance on social media and DOD to take further steps to secure the technology.

Allowing unrestricted access to social media on military computers and networks would be a mistake, said Rayford Vaughn, a professor of computer science and engineering at Mississippi State University. However, a full ban is not the solution, he added.

“Denial of all use of social networks by DOD would lead to the loss of use of an important communication mechanism,” Vaughn said. “It makes sense to me to use social networks to reach constituency groups for official business — veterans, wounded warriors, recruiting — but not for personal use during the duty day on government machines.”

Ultimately, DOD officials must provide ongoing training for employees to safeguard their systems, said Rohyt Belani, chief executive officer of Intrepidus Group and an instructor at Carnegie Mellon University.

“What they should focus on is educating their employees about the risks to publicly exposing themselves and [their] professional and personal affiliations,” Belani said. “They also need further education and reinforcement about how computer use at home is different from computer use at work.”

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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