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DoD releases new policy for the secure use of social media on NIPRNET

This afternoon, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the release of its new policy for the secure use of social media. The policy officially recognizes that “Internet capabilities are integral to operations across the Department of Defense” and formalizes the use of collaborative technology by service members from within the Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNET). The NIPRNET is used to exchange sensitive but unclassified information between “internal” users as well as providing users access to the open Internet, as opposed to the SIPRNET, which is used for more secure communications.

“This directive recognizes the importance of balancing appropriate security measures while maximizing the capabilities afforded by 21st Century Internet tools,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III in an official release posted at

Deputy CIO David Wennergren spoke to about the new policy for the secure use of social media late Friday afternoon. (Skip ahead to read the interview in full).

Secure access from the NIPRNET

The NIPRNET will now be configured to allow services members to use such services. The new policy “will allow access to SM [social media] sites but balance it with the need to be secure,” tweeted Price Floyd, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. He went on tweet out more details.

“Here’s the meat of it: the NIPRNET shall be configured to provide access to internet-based capabilities across all DoD components.”

“Commanders at all levels and Heads of DoD Components shall continue to defend against malicious activity affecting DoD networks (e.g., distributed denial of service attacks, intrusions) and take immediate and commensurate actions, as required, to safeguard missions (e.g., temporarily limiting access to the internet to preserve activity via social media sites (pornography, gambling, hate-crime related activities).

All use of Internet-based capabilities shall comply with paragraph 2-301 of chapter 2 of the Joint Ethics Regulation (reference (b)) and the guidelines set forth in attachment 2.”

The DoD’s social media directory shows the use of social media platforms by over a hundred different accounts, all of which will be governed by the new policy.

The full policy for the secure use of social media from the NIPRNET is embedded below:

Department of Defense 2010 policy for the secure use of social media by Alex Howard

“External official presences shall clearly identify that DOD provides their content,” tweeted Floyd. “External official presences shall receive approval from the responsible OSD or DoD Component Head. Official presences shall be registered on the external official presences list.”

The new DoD policy for the secure use of social media is clear on avoiding the addition of personally identifiable information (PII). “Official use shall ensure that the info posted is relevant and accurate, includes no PII, includes a disclaimer,” tweeted Floyd. “ASD (NII)/DOD CIO shall provide implementation guidance, education, training, and awareness activities. USD Intel shall develop and maintain threat estimates on current and emerging Internet-based capabilities. USD Intel shall integrate proper SM use into OPSEC training.”

UPDATE: reached Dave Wennergren, deputy CIO at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, at his office late on Friday afternoon. Following are the highlights of the interview

“This policy is a recognition that information sharing is so important to us,” said Wennergren. “It’s about being able to connect to the right people at the right time. We’ve done a lot of work on bringing in collaboration tools inside of the Department. Now, Web 2.0 tools allow us to extend that. You need look no further than Haiti, where non-governmental organizations were able to connect and share information in a crisis.”

Raising awareness of security

Wennergren observed that there’s a big imperative around both information sharing and security. “The purpose of this memo was to help people think about both,” he said. “When you think about security, you tend to think about individual access. And when you think about sharing on its own, you don’t think about security. What we had was inconsistent application of both. Some services blocked access entirely, others opened up. This memo was issued to enforce consistency around the use of technologies that are really powerful in helping people get their jobs done better. When Second Life happened, people looked at avatars and said that was a game. Now, universities are teaching classes there. Virtual worlds are clearly not a game. There’s a reason the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff uses Twitter. And there’s a reason the Navy set up an account on Facebook.”

Flexibility in applying policy

Wennergren was thoughtful about how blurred the lines between the workplace and home have become, along with the need to allow commanders flexibility in applying the policy for the secure use of social media within operational constraints. “You have to think about having good information hygiene,” he said, “which means being thoughtful about what you share in public or in private. Commanders at all levels need to take the steps they need to guarantee uptime and security. If the networks are under attack, by all means take the steps you can. If you’re in a limited bandwidth environment, then you need to consider that context.”

Web 2.0 is the office phone of the 21st Century

Wennergren also drew a historical parallel between Web 2.0 technologies and past communication technologies. “If this were a decade ago, we would have been having this conversation about the use of the Internet. It’s an interesting thing to think about whether you have a responsible workforce. People have phones. If people make a lot of long distance calls, there are ways to deal with that. If an employee is not doing their work because they’re spending all their time on the Internet, you can address that. We don’t unplug all the phones because someone might be using it inappropriately. The regulations are clear about use of government equipment. Existing rules will continue to apply.”

He was also concerned about being an attractive employer to the generation of hyper-connected millennials that have entered the workforce over the past decade. “If we want to be an employer of choice, we better give people access to tools that let them release their creativity,” said Wennergren. “There’s huge power in using these kinds of tools but you have to use them responsibly.”

Ensuring secure access to social media

The DoD’s deputy CIO was also focused on keeping the NIPRNET secure as military personnel are accessing Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms. “This is where we talk about a holistic approach,” said Wennergren. “People need to have access to the tools they need to get their jobs done. That means doing basic blocking and tackling; including firewalls, antivirus and monitoring of traffic going in and out of networks.”

That sort of tracking is why DISA invested in network mapping and leak detection in January. “By monitoring and keeping track of what’s going on, including anomalies, we’re better served than by blocking access to websites. The rest of the government also working on the Trusted Computing Initative,” said Wennergren, “which means putting public-facing content in a DMZ.”

Virtualization and the cloud will be involved

The shift that Wennergren described is significant, in terms of a way of thinking about enabling the workforce. “If what you really want to do is secure information sharing, you need to think about technology that allows you to do trusted computing from untrusted computers,” he said. “It’s sort of like the national park model — take nothing with you, leave nothing behind.  The future is people accessing secure networks through iPhones, Android devices or other mobile clients. The next set of tools might include access through library kiosks.”

Wennergren sees desktop virtualization and server virtualization playing a role in the secure use of social media in the future. “Imagine the prize of having a trusted deskop in the cloud,” he said. “If apps and data are up in the cloud and you understand the perimeter, you can raise the boundaries of security overall.  Whether it’s a bootable CD or other means, virtualization can allow you to be protect your environment from the PC you’re booting into.”

Risk management, not risk avoidance

Regardless of the technologies employed, Wennergren said “the prize” is security. “It’s like the clichéd phrase about defense in depth. People need to be thoughtful about the devices they use and what those devices can do.”

Like Howard Schmidt, the U.S. cybercoordinator, Wennergren is applying risk management to cybersecurity threats. “Moving from risk avoidance to risk management helps you to be more thoughtful,” he said. “Consider a BlackBerry. It’s inconsequential to send a trivial email using a fixed access signal. If it’s a more serious email, you should be using a Common Access Card and a PKI credential to transmit.  Some people’s location data will be turned off. For others, that won’t matter as much.”

Wennergren’s focus is on delivering IT capabilities more quickly and still remaining secure. “Where it used to take a long time to deploy a new platform, now you can do much more,” he said. “If you expose your data, mash things up, use Google Earth, you can move much more rapidly. Whether it’s tracking IED locations, maritime situational awareness, aggregating Blue Team movements, Web 2.0 technologies are giving a us a huge advantage. We can share documents quickly and increase operational awareness through these technologies. Shame on you if you’re not taking advantage of them.”

A video of Wennergren from earlier this month is embedded below, in which he offers more perspectives on secure information sharing.

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The Defense Department’s Social Media Hub will host more “educational materials” on the policy in the future.

UPDATE: last year, David Meerman Scott interviewed Roxie Merritt, Director of New Media Operations at the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of Defense. In the video below, they talk about blogger relations, the role of Facebook and Twitter, and other ways to communicate. [Hat tip to Scott’s post about the DoD’s official policy on social media.

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