Safe OPSEC: the front line of defense

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Modern smart phones have more computing power than the computer that first sent man into space. With that much power, service members must remain vigilant when it comes to protecting their personal information.

Protecting personal information, even some that can be considered unclassified, is considered operational security. Protecting digital information is certainly an important part of safe OPSEC, but there is much more to it.

According to an official Air Force website, OPSEC is a systematic, proven process by which a government, organization or individual can identify, control and protect generally unclassified information about an operation or activity, and thus, deny or mitigate an adversary's, or competitor's, ability to compromise or interrupt an operation or activity.

That means a little information in the wrong hands can be detrimental to the U.S. Air Force.

"It's the old cliché," said David Warnick, 325th Fighter Wing OPSEC program manager. "If we give out all the little pieces of the puzzle, and then the bad guys put all the little pieces together, they can get the big picture out of it."

In other words, the date of a squadron deployment may not be important, but the date, time, location and number of personnel deploying could provide a target for an enemy.

"Additionally, Air Force personnel should also be aware of their units' Critical Information Lists," said Warnick. "These are handy reminders of what you should not talk about over an unsecure phone, in open areas, etc.  Also, know who your OPSEC coordinators are.  They can give you guidance as it relates to OPSEC.  Seek them out if you have any OPSEC questions or concerns."

Warnick explained that while some of the information comes from physical paper that has been printed out and misplaced, much more comes from understanding how to use social media.

"Right now a big thing is social media," Warnick said. "Anything out there including, Facebook, Twitter, anything along those lines, can serve as a way to give away information. Could be for the mission, could be something personal. You don't want to be the person that goes out there and says, 'Hey! My husband is deploying to Timbuktu on Dec. 5 at noon from Tyndall Air Force Base at Hangar 3.' You don't want to go there."

Practicing safe OPSEC could serve as a preventative measure against an attack, and that's just what safety officials want.

"We just want to remind everyone to be vigilant when it comes to safe OPSEC," said Maj. Jonathan Bell, 325th FW Security Forces Squadron commander. "We would much rather prevent incidents than respond to them. Social media is a great platform for staying connected with friends and family, but an adversary can disrupt and degrade the mission if good OPSEC is not practiced on these websites."

With information being only a click away in the digital age, safe OPSEC is important. According to Warnick, good judgment can serve as a powerful force against a potential threat.

"A lot of it is just before you post, think about it," Warnick said. "That's how we look at OPSEC. If I'm a bad guy, would that information help me? Probably? Well, then you probably shouldn't put it out there."