There’s no escaping that social media has been playing an increasing part in our everyday lives for the last decade and it is this fact that now have military chiefs worried about what information is being shared online by those under their command. This fear has been reinforced as reports have begun to circulate about fake profiles being created in order to follow the activities and locations of serving personnel and even members of youth cadet organisations.
The MailOnline has published reports from members of the British Army’s University Officers’ Training Corps that shows a worrying increase in the number of fake profiles being created and aimed at befriending members online. Security experts are concerned that with last year’s attempted abduction of an RAF NCO as he jogged near his base, members of Jihadist groups operating in the UK are trying to use social media to plot similar kidnappings or attacks.
Other sources claim that Russia is attempting to carry out covert reconnaissance and intelligence gathering operations on British forces via social media or even use it to recruit or coerce service personnel. It is also likely that news and other media outlets are following service personnel online hoping to uncover a story.
The MoD has been aware of the potential impact social media could have on security for quite some time and in 2012 published a booklet that provided a guide on what was acceptable or not. This included asking the following questions about anything put online;
• What if this ends up on the front page of the papers?
• Would I say this to my CO in front of 100 people?
• Would I leave this information lying on a park bench?
• What if a terrorist or criminal gets this information?
British forces aren’t the only ones who have had to learn this lesson with most of the world’s military and government organisations having to regulate their personnel’s use of social media. In July 2014, a Russian soldier named Sergeant Alexander Sotkin posted a photo of himself online with the image being tagged as having been taken in eastern Ukraine despite Russia repeatedly denying it had Russian soldiers fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels there.
Cyberspace represents many challenges when it comes to security. Firstly, unlike secret military equipment it is readily available to anyone and exists well outside the chain of command. Keeping government secrets has always been a part of military life but instead of shady, backroom dealings with mysterious strangers in trench coats the people trying to gather information online will often seem like anyone else with similar interests, personalities and no obvious indications that they are someone whose goal is more nefarious than simply sharing a funny cat video.