The U.S. intelligence community is warning military personnel about the risks associated with using social media because there is evidence that ISIL is using sites like Facebook and Twitter to target and threaten military members and their families. ISIL is the State Department’s preferred designation for the al-Qaeda linked Islamic terror group, referred to as ISIS by the media.

Service members are responding to the guidance by minimizing the personal information they post on social media, and by controlling who can view their profiles. Some have deleted their accounts, including an Air Force pilot and his son, who were directly threatened by the terrorist group.

In spite of all of the news related to personal information breaches, many Americans still don’t realize that using social media is a primary information source for anyone with nefarious intent. For example, location services on our smartphones enable applications to identify our geographic location. Ask yourself if you want your latitude and longitude embedded in the photos you post on Facebook while on vacation. If I’m a criminal, or worse, I can use open source software tools to extract the geo-coordinates and time stamp from your photos, confirming that you are not in your house…your house is now a potential target for me to rob.

Social media sites are also platforms commonly used by bad actors to spread malware through bad links and malicious advertising, or “malvertising.” Always remember that those free social media sites aren’t providing services because they are altruistic, hoping to bring the people together through a warm and welcoming online global community (am I being cynical?). Most social media sites make their money through advertising, and they are using your personal information to feed the advertising firms.

As a former military officer, I am sensitive to the risks associated with social media. While I was serving on active duty, we focused on operations security and trained our teams to understand that anything posted on Facebook, Twitter or other sites is potential information that terrorists and adversaries can use to build a picture of how and where military units are operating. We’ve already addressed how the Department of Defense is responding to the risks to service members and their families associated with using social media. The point is that you don’t have to be in the military or associated with the military to become a victim.

The reality is that recommendations for military families apply to ALL of us. Take time to review your profiles on all of your social networking sites. Limit your exposure by not allowing strangers to view your personal information and pictures. I have referenced a couple of links that may be helpful. Finally, we all know someone who is serving, or has served in the military…keep an eye out for them and report any suspicious activity to civil authorities.

Comments and questions for Mike Walls are welcome:

Mike Walls is Managing Director, Security and Operations and Analysis at EdgeWave. While on Active Duty in the U.S. Navy, Mike served as Commander Task Force 1030 reporting directly to the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command, and was responsible for Cyber readiness of over 400,000 people, 300 ships, and 4,000 aircraft.