How a purple dragon can help you live safer in a dangerous world

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Reading the words “operations security” more than likely doesn’t get your blood rushing or pulse racing, and no one would blame you if it didn’t. But, what if it could save you thousands of dollars by preventing identify theft, keep your children safe from predators wanting to hurt them, or prevent your holidays from being destroyed by a house break-in?

It’s true, OPSEC is the product of war — Vietnam to be specific. Operation Purple Dragon sought to find the areas where Americans were inadvertently divulging information to the enemy, losing the tactical advantage in the process, and suggested ways to plug the information “hole.” But, as presenters at the 2018 Interagency OPSEC Support Staff Symposium held recently in Maryland succinctly phrased it, anytime information you want to protect hits the outside world, you have OPSEC concerns. With so many people connected in myriad ways in an increasing technical world, it’d be difficult to find someone who that doesn’t apply to.

“We can’t just look at OPSEC as a compliance measure during an inspection; we have to make OPSEC part of our life so it becomes second nature to us,” said Wright-Patterson Air Force Base OPSEC Program Manager Lucas McLean.

Take your smart device for instance, more than 80 percent of men and 75 percent of women in the U.S. own a smartphone according to the Pew Research Center. So, what do you do when you get the inevitable “update available” pop-up? Cybersecurity experts at the IOSS Symposium say that the reason those updates appear is because a bad person somewhere has found a way to compromise your device. Unfortunately, most swipe the update notice away, not wanting to pause what they were doing. Those same experts say that if you delay installing those updates three times, you all but guarantee that whatever the bad person made is now on your phone. Your best bet to thwart a criminal’s intent is simply bite the bullet and update your device immediately. Doing so, you make your device less susceptible to ransomware and monitoring as well as protect your sensitive information as it travels through the digital atmosphere, possibly preventing identity theft.

Device updates can seal digital holes in your operating system but many threats people face are often self-imposed. Experts briefing at the IOSS Symposium said that 97 percent of identify thefts begin with a click – often on an unsolicited email. While experts say you may be familiar with what emails from your bank look like, but what about other products? If an email comes in with a great deal, regardless of source, cybersecurity specialists say to navigate to the websites yourself using a browser instead of clicking on the link from an email or text message.

It’s not always about what you receive; it’s just as much about what you put out. Most have no doubt heard about the threat posed from social media – people post too much and then find themselves in a sketchy predicament. It could be as simple as checking in somewhere only to realize their apartment has been broken into because the robber knew they weren’t home because of the social media post. But, what about prayer requests? Often sent as a sincere wish for another’s well-being, they present a possible notification to criminals that a family may be under financial hardship or desperately looking for an easy cure, opening them up to being manipulated, briefers said.

“You have to not only think of yourself but think of others when it comes to OPSEC,” McLean said. “If someone steals your information then that not only impacts you but could also impact your position and the mission.”

Many social media users like to post special events in their lives such as the first day of school but, how much information are they sharing? Photos are geotagged with their exact GPS location, if not turned off in the app, while school name, bus number and even street intersections may be visible in the image, along with a time stamp of when pick up happens.

“The easiest way to practice OPSEC is to put yourself in the adversary’s shoes and think what they could do with the information you hold,” McLean said. “If you know a particular piece of information could damage a mission or cause harm to someone then you must protect it.”

Briefers say that the best way to combat these issues is simply to take charge of what information you’re putting out. This includes securing your social media platforms so only your friends can see it – and by friends, make sure you only “friend” people you’ve physically met in real life. Most apps have a feature that lets you see what people who aren’t your friends see when they visit your profile. Use this feature to make sure your privacy settings are correct and working how you want them to. Then, make sure that geotagging is off and don’t share information that could put yourself, your family or others at risk.

But, briefers said it’s not just electronic communications that gets people in trouble. Car stickers that highlight children’s names, sports teams and numbers, along with other family make-up and interests, can make easy targets for predators who are willing to put in the time to groom their victims.

Experts also say to be aware of what you put in social rosters as that information should be assumed to be completely in the public domain, whether for school, sports or other activity. Even if it initially lies behind a password protected site, once it’s retrieved, it can be shared anywhere. Information such as address, birthdays, and full names of the entire family and similar can be useful to criminals looking for targets.

And finally, while it may apply especially during the winter holidays, experts say don’t put out the boxes to your expensive new toys with the trash. Boxes from large screen TVs, computers and other items advertise exactly what you just put in your home. Instead, break down those boxes and bring them to your local recycling center; you’ll be doing good for the environment and keeping your home safer.

Briefers say that our appetite for advanced technology is rapidly exceeding our ability to protect it. But, by using some thought and discipline, you can make life safer in both your physical and digital life.