If you watch the news or spend any time online you can get the idea that social media use has reached 100 percent market saturation. Grandma’s are on Facebook now, after all, and Pew Research found that 6 in 10 seniors are now online and just under half are broadband adopters.
Even as seniors continue to log on and join the conversation at growing rates, there’s one segment of the population that’s less likely to engage online – and that’s federal government employees and security clearance holders.
I was recently at a career fair for security cleared professionals. One of the things that makes it different than your typical networking event (in addition to the number of individuals who tell you ‘no pictures, please!’) is that you can’t count on being able to look this group up on LinkedIn later. And there’s good reason for that.
“Advertising your security clearance on sites liked LinkedIn makes you an intelligence target and evidences a lack of discretion,” said security clearance attorney and former background investigator Sean Bigley. “The granting of a security clearance is fundamentally the government agreeing that you can be trusted (both in terms of honesty and common sense). Publicly posting your security clearance details online may not impact anyone’s opinion of your honesty, but it certainly might impact opinions about your common sense. After all, if someone is sharing their clearance details with the whole world online, who is to say that they wouldn’t also spill the classified information they learn?”
Watching the Watchers
Earlier this summer (before China allegedly stole the background investigations of approximately 20 million clearance holders), a website called IC Watch, a project of Transparency Toolkit, uploaded the resumes of 27,000 people believed to work in the intelligence community. The resumes were released in searchable format (meaning you can search to see if your own name is included), with the purpose of ‘better understanding mass surveillance programs.’
Transparency Toolkit called IC Watch a special program designed to ‘watch the watchers.’ If you work in the defense industry and intelligence community you’ve always know you’re a potential target for nefarious actors. But ever since the record leaks by Edward Snowden, being a watcher is perhaps more unpopular than ever.
Where did the Transparency Toolkit find that treasure trove of information? LinkedIn.
“I would advocate great care be taken in the public sharing of your personal information, to include the fact you enjoy the trust and confidence of the US Government as evidenced by the security clearance provided to you so that you may perform a specific function dealing with national security,” said Christopher Burgess, CEO and co-founder of Prevendra, a company that advocates for online safety. “That said, you can and should share you are “eligible” and thus stepping over the factual, “I have access.” As the access is where the nation has placed their trust, and where the hostile intelligence service will attempt to make their approach.”
Burgess also urged caution in just how detailed of a profile you create online. The more detailed your public-facing career profile, the easier target you make yourself for spear phishing attacks.
Smarter Social Networking
There is utility in social networking. While some members of the Intelligence Community may find it safer to stay off line, most of us are perfectly safe with our Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles. But there are smart steps anyone can take, and particularly those who work for the government and in sensitive national security positions.
- Use first name, last initial only.
There’s nothing that makes me cringe more than a highly specialized cleared professional with a LinkedIn profile with their first name, last name and clearance level all emblazoned in the header. There’s no need to that aggressively advertise your name or access.
- Don’t stay logged on.
How many of us actually take the time to log out of our social networking profiles? Not many – that’s part of the utility. But especially if you’re networking on a public or workplace computer, or on a phone, it’s best to make log in/log out a habit.
- Know every contact.
LinkedIn seems to prize those making the most connections (I’ve seen several who post the number of connections proudly in their user name ‘Bob Jones, 10,000+ Connections!!’). But, you shouldn’t be making connections with those you don’t know personally. The British Intelligence Service recently highlighted this in a memo which noted a large number of British civil servants were found to have connected with ‘known hostile intelligence service cover profiles.’ Ouch. MI5 is urging British civil servants to be more cautious. The same should be said for government employees and contractors in the States.
- Don’t mix business and pleasure.
It’s a bit of a twisty wicket for active job seekers – you’re told to always be networking, and yet urged to use discretion about listing your clearance status. One of the easiest ways to navigate this is use social networking sites for strict networking – don’t post your resume, don’t list your employment details, and be wary even of connecting with companies you know – only connect with individuals you have met in person. Then, choose a secure, password protected career networking site such as the Cleared Network for posting your resume and clearance status. No site is 100 percent safe, but ClearanceJobs.com is the only career site with end-to-end https encryption.