Sunday, September 25, 2011

Social Media and Security

I want to spend a few minutes talking about social media. That includes blogging, tweeting, forum posting, and friending. Many humanitarian security practitioners don't give social media much thought. But let me give you some real world examples I've encountered where social media went wrong and security issues arose (names, locations, and organizations aren't revealed for obvious reasons):
  • Blog posts about upcoming program site visits (including dates, destinations, and routes) in an area noted for banditry
  • Blog posts that revealed the location of an ex-pat humanitarian worker's residence (the staff member later left the conflict zone country when a Western intelligence agency warned an abduction was being planned)
  • Photos posted on a personal Web site that showed the inside of a field office (including the location of the safe)
  • An interview that appeared in an online magazine where a staff member discussed the details of refugee camp security measures
  • A Facebook page belonging to an ex-pat staff member working in a Muslim country that contained culturally insensitive photos and comments
Good security practice is all about reducing risk. Yet in each of the above cases, not enough thought was given to the security implications of online activities and the potential impact to individuals and the employing organization. (I personally believe there's a tendency for many people to treat the Internet as a separate reality that seldom, if ever, intersects with real life.)

To reduce exposure to possible consequences, a good social media policy that spells out what is acceptable online behavior is a must. In tandem, educating staff about some of the risks to themselves and their colleagues from unmindful use of social media is also essential

This falls more into a human resources versus a security responsibility within most organizations (but shouldn't stop a good security practitioner from making others aware of the risk). If your organization doesn't have a social media policy (or wants to see how others are dealing with potential issues), check out this great, free resource that provides a database of over 170 social media policies from business, non-profit, and government.

Postscript: While on the subject of social media. The Mexican drug cartels are increasing their attacks on bloggers. Listen to a recent NPR story and see this news account about a female blogger being decapitated. I wonder if this type of activity will become more widespread (in varying degrees of violence) outside of Mexico and outside of a drug cartel context. It bears watching, especially in developing country conflict zones where actors' Internet savvy is often significantly underestimated. 9/27/11 - It's not just cartels putting the squeeze on bloggers. The State of Veracruz just passed a law that makes social media illegal if it undermines public order.

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