Controlling Troops in Social Media Warfare

Both defenders and attackers need to have a disciplined approach toward using social media applications in conflict situations as well as in non-conflict day-today use. This includes knowing when and how to use social media applications to ensure that messaging and content do not reveal information that can benefit an adversary. This requires an understanding of what types of vulnerabilities the use of social media applications can create.

Understanding the technology platform used to support social media use such as a smartphone, mobile computing device, or a fixed computing facility is a good start. Smartphones for example, are being used by troops on all sides of conflict situations to communicate with friends and family, and they often use social media applications. This creates several problems.

First, the location of a smartphone, and thus its user, can be identified using various signal tracking technologies. On a more sophisticated level, the StingRay, an international mobile subscriber identity (I MS I-catcher) cellular phone surveillance device (manufactured by the Harris Corporation) can be deployed in war zones just as easily as it can be used in Dade County, Florida, United States. The StingRay has been very effective in helping authorities track down smartphone users and monitor their activity. In addition, many photos that are taken with a smartphone and posted to social media pages have geotagging features that reveal the location where the photo was taken and is visible when posted on certain social media platforms, thus providing adversaries with actionable intelligence.

Second, social media application use from fixed computing devices can eventually be traced back to the point of origin, depending on the sophistication of the application and the service provider serving the application. This leaves insurgent attackers more vulnerable because defenders have a better chance of developing cooperative relationships with service providers and applications developers to help obtain location information.

Third, both defensive troops and attacking troops need to be trained in using social media applications for their personal use in order not to compromise operations security. There should also be policies in place by the organizations regarding the use of social media applications. The U.S. Army Social Media Handbook provides guidance on how members of the military should use social media applications, and some of the things they should be cautious about when using social media. This is especially relevant when protecting operations security.

The U.S. Army has also warned troops that terrorists have said they are hunting soldiers and their families at home. In fact, the Army has determined that an Al-Qaeda handbook tells member terrorists to seek out information about government personnel, officers, important personalities, and all matters related to them (residence, workplace, leaving and returning times, spouses and children, and places visited) [3]. Such information can be used to retaliate and cause harm to conflict participants.

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