OPSEC for you and your family

by Jeana Coleman
Stripes Europe

You’ve probably heard the phrases “Loose lips sink ships” and “Careless talk costs lives.” These statements were printed on posters displayed throughout the U.S. during World War II as part of a campaign to remind servicemembers and citizens to stay mum about military activity. While these phrases have been slightly amended today to reflect our use of electronic media, their core meaning remains the same — be careful when talking about what you know about the military, and protect your personal information. Giving people too much information leaves both your family, and the military’s mission, vulnerable.

While everyone is encouraged to socialize, make new friends, and keep family and friends informed about their European exploration, it’s imperative to recognize how seemingly innocent statements or activity could be used to jeopardize safety for ourselves and our military community.

The military has always striven to protect its information and activity. However, after careful analysis of the dissemination of information during the Vietnam War, a formal policy was developed to better train servicemembers on the protection of sensitive information. This policy is referred to as OPSEC, or Operational Security. However, the responsibility for practicing good OPSEC falls on all of us — servicemembers, their families, friends, federal employees and U.S. civilians exposed to information about the military and its activity.

Certain information should never be discussed in a public forum, such as the gym, on the train, on your cellphone at the store, over lunch with a friend at a café, in your blog or on your social media page. These details include:

• Present or future troop movements and deployments — Don’t discuss any dates (even days of the week) or flight details about when a movement is happening, the reason why it is happening, or if the movement is a change of location. Also, do not discuss when airmen or soldiers are on leave for personal vacation.

• Readiness or training details — Don’t talk about types of training, reasons for the training, issues or weaknesses that led to training, or location of exercises.

• Security details of numbers and equipment — Don’t divulge information that includes the number of troops, types of equipment and weapon systems, and other sensitive information.

• Unit locations and servicemember details — Never discuss where specific units are located, or announce full names and ranks of individual soldiers or airmen and their specific jobs, training or expertise in the military.

Although it may seem obvious that this kind of information should not be discussed, a surprising amount of information is divulged on a regular basis that is considered an OPSEC violation. Some examples:

• “Tom flies out of Frankfurt on Tuesday for Bahrain.”

• “Wow, I just saw a convoy of army trucks carrying tanks eastbound on A-4 near Hamburg.”

• “Sandra just texted — she gets home from Kabul on Monday.”

• “We can’t make dinner next week; my unit has this big exercise. Lately we train nearly every other weekend.”
These statements may not contain all information about a specific plan. However, it would not take long for someone to piece together and ascertain the whole plan with just a few insightful comments made by a handful of people. 

Being part of the military community does, unfortunately, increase your risk of being a target of scams or harm from adversaries. Therefore, it’s important to safeguard your personal security, or PERSEC, just as you would OPSEC.

Always protect your personal information, such as rank, specific job and home address. Don’t post this information on social media pages, discuss it in public, on a personal blog, or divulge to strangers over the phone.

When a family member deploys, keep up regular routines and don’t alert others to his or her absence. Maintain the yard as usual, leave the deployed servicemember’s vehicle in its usual parking spot, and create patriotic displays to commemorate their service for inside the home instead of outside; refrain from using yellow ribbon decals or stickers on vehicles, and don’t discuss specific details about the deployment in public, online or over the phone.

In Europe, many salespeople and charities solicit door to door; municipalities have different regulations and laws pertaining to what is allowed. If you live off base, get familiarized with the local charities and businesses that frequent the neighborhood. Neighbors who are local nationals can also give you insight. Don’t feel obligated if they approach you, and don’t divulge information about your household to anyone at the door.

Social media
Earlier it was mentioned that those World War II posters have evolved; the statements of “Loose tweets sink fleets,” and “Careless posts cost lives” are relevant in this electronic age. The latest 2014 statistics show that Facebook and Youtube are the second and third largest websites, with more than 1.3 billion and 1 billion unique users worldwide per month, respectively. Facebook has more than 6.8 million websites linked to its site; approximately 600 million hours of videos are watched on Youtube per month, with 100 hours uploaded every minute.

While it is mind-boggling to realize how connected we are to the rest of the world, we are also exposed and vulnerable to outside threats, predators and enemies. Social media sites are public forums; be sure to enable security settings to help control who can openly see your posts. But also note that not everyone has strict privacy settings on their pages. Commenting on someone else’s photos or posts with sensitive information may allow hundreds, if not thousands of others to see your posts and can jeopardize OPSEC. Here are other ways that OPSEC could be jeopardized:

Photos – Posting photos and tagging military servicemembers in action, at work, in the office or at home while they’re in uniform; posting photos that show weaponry or systems.

Check-ins – Tagging yourself at a location, whether on R&R leave or TDY, leaves your family and your unit vulnerable; people know that you’re not at home, and with metadata, can pinpoint your location. 

Metadata – Posting photos or documents with metadata; bits of information are coded into files created on computers, digital cameras and smartphones. Information can be utilized to gain access to computers and ascertain current locations and personal information. Change the settings on smartphones before photos are taken; find tutorials to help remove metadata from existing files.

So remember that it is up to everyone to practice good OPSEC and PERSEC; safeguard sensitive information about the military and its activity, as well as your personal information, by controlling what you say or post about what you know. For more information about OPSEC and PERSEC, contact your unit commander and visit www.militaryonesource.mil.

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