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3/4/2010
02:16 PM
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Israeli Soldier's Facebook Faux Pas A Lesson For U.S. Military

This type of thing was bound to happen. A leak of sensitive military information on Facebook shows good reason -- but also holds good lessons -- for a cautious approach to soldiers' use of social media.

This type of thing was bound to happen. A leak of sensitive military information on Facebook shows good reason -- but also holds good lessons -- for a cautious approach to soldiers' use of social media.According to reports, the Israeli military was forced to call off a raid on militants in a Palestinian village -- fearing for the safety of its soldiers -- after a soldier posted details of the raid's timing and location on Facebook.

Reports say the soldier posted a Facebook status update saying, "on Wednesday, we clean up Qatanah, and on Thursday, God willing, we come home," in reference to a village near the West Bank city of Ramallah. The soldier's Facebook friends, fellow soldiers, soon turned him in, and the soldier was court-martialed, sentenced to 10 days in prison and removed from combat.

It's apparently not the first time the Israeli military has found soldiers posting sensitive military information online, and it probably won't be the last, but it's a lesson to the U.S. military to make sure that however it goes about implementing its social media strategy, it does so with care.

Certainly, the episode serves to validate some of the concerns that spurred military bases and branches from keeping restrictive social media policies in place for so long, but that ship has sailed as of last week, when the military lifted access restrictions to sites like Facebook and Twitter to allow soldiers and Department of Defense employees access to such sites from DoD computers on the military's unclassified network.

There are certainly a few lessons here for IT managers and policy makers. First, education is key, as DoD deputy CIO Dave Wennergren told me in an interview last week. Soldiers need to be informed of the consequences to them and to the mission that will stem from publishing sensitive information online, as well as what constitutes acceptable behavior on sites like Facebook.

Second, education won't stop everyone. The BBC reports that the Israeli military launched a campaign against Facebook leaks even before the soldier's inopportune status update. Therefore, other measures will likely be needed to prevent and clean up after leaks. Punishment might serve as a deterrent, but the military might also want to be sure to watch what people are saying online and encourage others to report misuse.

Under the DoD's plan, commanders can still take steps to safeguard their networks in certain situations, such as during a cyberattack and before sensitive missions. This is evidence that sort of step might unfortunately be necessary.

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