Take precautions when using social networking sites

By Shay Edwards
USAG Stuttgart Antiterrorism Office

We’ve probably all been told at some point in our lives to not post pictures of ourselves and our families on social networking sites such as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.

Many hear the warnings and may think something along the lines of “Well sure, I shouldn’t, but I really like sharing photos with my family and friends back home. After all, who is really going to use this information against me? I’ve never even heard of a case where someone has been attacked.”

Think again.

On Sept. 9, 2010, police arrested three men for 50 burglaries in Nashua, N.H. The suspects used social media sites to determine when the homeowners would be away.

On Jan. 29, 2011, a chief executive officer from a large corporation arrived in Monterrey, Mexico. Kidnappers saw his name displayed by the driver assigned to pick him up and identified him as wealthy by using information they found on the Internet. Thirty-six hours and one ransom demand later, the CEO was killed.

And on April 19, 2011, Vanya Kaspersky, 19, the son of one of Russia’s richest businessmen, was kidnapped and held for ransom as he walked to work in Moscow, Russia. is kidnappers used social networks to determine his daily routine, before kidnapping him.  

These cases exemplify how the Internet and social networking sites can be used to target you and your family. However, there are several measures you can take to prevent a criminal or terrorist attack from happening. 

• Remove any pictures with location data of you and your family. Pay specific attention to those pictures near and around your home, and places that you regularly visit. Many cell phones and iTouches automatically tag each photograph taken with the location of the picture. When downloaded onto social networking websites, these locations can reveal where you live and work, and identify other members of your family.  

• Remove any geo-tagging data from your smart phone, iPhone or Blackberry. Your smart phone may have this function without your knowledge.  There are numerous online websites that help you do this for your phone. Just search online to find one.

• Do not “check in” to different locations. Many social media sites offer incentives for visiting certain places and posting your whereabouts online. Keep in mind every time you do this, you tell anyone watching exactly where you are and how far you are away from home. 

•  Don’t provide a minute by minute account of your day. Keep some things a secret. Telling the world where you are and what you’re doing can be used to predict where you’ll be in the future.  If you’ re excited about an upcoming vacation, keep it to yourself. Criminals use this information to determine the best time to rob your home. 

• Don’t identify your friends’ names to others on a social networking site. This may make them future targets for a criminal or terrorist act. Do your friends a favor and keep them anonymous.

• Don’t post your address online.  If someone has your full name and knows the area where you live, they can find you online. If they can figure out when you’ll be gone, you’re inviting disaster.

For more information, visit the Information Assurance web page on social networking at https://www.us.army.mil/suite/25539870.