The internet instantaneously allows you to reach out across the internet superhighway to share information or connect with loved ones. Despite how innocuous this may seem, without taking the proper precautions, your personal information can inadvertently fall into the wrong hands.
"You have to assume that everyone is looking at it," said Col. Mary Hanson, the senior information security officer of the Air Force Office of Information Dominance and chief information officer. "Think: would my mom be proud if I put this out there?"
It's not just families looking at what Airmen are posting on social media sites; it's also employers and, more importantly, unfriendly sources, Hanson explained.
"Social media is a convenient tool but also a dangerous one," said Phil Withers, the Air Force Special Operations Command's deputy chief of information and cyberspace operations. "I think of using the internet like I think of driving a car; it's a great tool but users need to be cautious."
According to Air Force Instruction 1-1, "Air Force Standards," even having unknown followers could constitute relationships that may affect determinations in background investigations associated with security clearances.
Security clearances are not the only things Airmen and their families need to be aware of in the cyber realm. It is estimated that about eight new users access the Internet every minute as technology spreads to developing countries. On average, there are 1 million victims of cyber-crime across the globe every day, and most of them are new Internet users who could have avoided the attack if they were more educated on cyber security.
"The goal of cyber security ... is to take steps to make sure you are not one of those victims in your professional network life and your home network life," said 2nd Lt. Kristoff Kalau, the 18th Communications Squadron officer in charge of cyberspace support systems.
There are steps Airmen and their families can take to help protect themselves against unwanted access to their personal information on social media:
· Set privacy settings on social media sites to restrict access to posts but do not rely on those settings to be a fail-safe. This tip applies to any social media platforms you may use. Click here (hyperlink: http://airforcelive.dodlive.mil/files/2014/10/FB-privacy-settings-2014.pdf
) for a detailed how-to guide on how to secure your Facebook profile.
· Do not share information that you are not willing to share with the world, as some websites could leak information. Remember, once you put something out there, you can't control where it goes.
· Do not post personal information such as your home address or phone number.
· Disable location-based social networking, or geotagging, on all social media platforms. Geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification to photographs, video, websites and text messages.
· Avoid posting work or personal schedules and travel itineraries, especially deployment information and return dates for yourself, a loved one or a unit.
· Be aware of open Wi-Fi hot spots in public areas where information can easily be stolen from phones or tablets.
· Do not publicize your association with military forces.
· Be cautious when accepting friend requests and interacting with people online. You should never accept a friend request from someone you do not know, even if they know a friend of yours.
"The bottom line is you need to be aware of who is looking at your information," Hanson said. "You don't want to be a target, so be careful and be vigilant."
If you ever feel you or your family are being threatened or you notice vulnerable information online, be sure to alert the social media platform's help center and your local Operations Security (OPSEC) manager for assistance.
(Editor's Note: Erica Vega, Air Force Special Operations Command, Tech. Sgt. Steve Grever and Airman 1st Class Zade C. Vadnais, 18th Air Force, contributed to this article.)
(Information courtesy of Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Operating Location - P)