Social networks have redefined friendship and the way we connect to each other.
Face-to-face meetings have given way to Facebook.
In fact, if you have a Facebook account (only one of 3,750-plus social networking sites) you are a citizen of the fourth largest “country” in the world. According to Army Europe Information Technology training, Facebook has over 350 million subscribers.
One of the many benefits to social networking sites is making new friends. That benefit is also a great danger because these “friends” could inflict damage by way of data theft or viruses.
The danger is compounded when you automatically accept friends without verifying their identities.
According to a Federal Times article posted Nov. 2, 2009, by Greg Rinckey, online associations could put your security clearance in jeopardy. In Rinckey’s article, a subject befriended another gamer in a gaming chat room. Unsuspectingly, the “friend” was actually a foreign intelligence agent working out of China. The result was the revocation of the subject’s clearance.
If you are one of those social networking users with a large “friends list,” you should rethink your popularity, especially living overseas. Review your associations, especially foreign contacts, and keep your personal information controlled. Utilize the “ignore” and “block” features, and verify identities before accepting friends.
Moreover, Question 14 of the National Agency Questionnaire (SF-86) asks for the names of your foreign relatives and associates.
The term “associate” is defined as any foreign national that you or your spouse “are bound by affection, obligation, or close and continuing contact.” Continuing contact usually means visits, mail, phone calls or e-mail.
Therefore, giving a foreign national access to your social networking page as a “friend” could be considered close and continuing contact, even if you never directly message them.
Remember, investigators can look at your social networking site pages and ascertain your friendships. Therefore, an accurate disclosure of foreign contacts is your best course of action.
Finally, you can mitigate the chances of being wrongfully targeted by foreign intelligence agencies by taking a proactive approach to your privacy settings. Follow these useful tips found in Army Europe Information Technology training:
1. Allow your closest and trusted friends, by invitation only, to view your SNS page.
2. Always vet potential friends, and ensure they are who they say they are.
3. Do not automatically accept mutual friends.
4. Always be mindful of what personal information you place on your profile page. Government or military affiliation, as well as birth dates, should not be shared publicly.