Social Network Spy Game

I try, very hard, not to weigh in on some of the sillier things going on in the online world but I felt compelled to make a quick post about the shenanigans going on in the DC twitter world regarding @PrimorisEra.

Spencer Ackerman over at wired wrote up a great piece summarizing the events and went the extra mile talking to @PrimorisEra to get "her" side of the story.  Read his write up to get the background if you don't know what this post is about thus far.

Aside from the almost high school level drama, there is a serious issue at root here.  Namely, that the general lack of suspicion and skepticism that plagues the online world -- that enables phishing schemes to work, that allows people to compromise themselves in new and creative ways, that is the general dismay of the entire security industry -- somehow has crossed over to individuals in positions related to national security. Individuals who work in national security roles are trained -- beat over the head -- with operational security (OPSEC) rules but somehow forget this when engaging in social media.  Yet, again, we have another example of people acting foolishly in the online world.  I say again because something VERY similar (yet very different as it was fake) happened almost eight months ago: The Robin Sage experiment.

I have asked many people in the security field about their thoughts on the Robin Sage experiment.  My main question, always, is what they think the lasting repercussions of the experiment would be on the community (intel, national security, cyber).  The answer, universally, is that the impact would be minimal.  That it would be forgotten within months.

Eight months later, the uproar that Robin Sage caused was forgotten.  Eight months later we have another example of why the nexus of social media and national security is...well...complicated. I am not advocating a full stop and a reverse course.  The virtues of social media engagement are manifold. The good that comes out of social engagement is phenomenal.  But when we are talking about intel, defense, and diplomacy, are publicly accessible feeds the absolute best place for individuals to engage in a non-professionally sanctioned way?  Perhaps @PrimorisEra could have built a following and engaged on Intellipedia. Perhaps she should have compartmentalized her work life from social life on twitter.  Perhaps this all could have gone differently.

I am eager to see, what if anything, results from this.  Will it end up that @PrimorisEra was, in fact, a honey pot?  If she was, this drama is going to intensify greatly.  Whichever way that chip falls, what are the repercussions for her and the government?  What are the lessons learned that policy makers and information assurance (security) professionals can take away?  What will change?  What will stay the same?

We must remember, this is both a one-time event and also the greatest systemic fear of those charged with protecting our national security networks and information.  To the policy makers out there, I urge you to be methodical and rational in your approach to this event.  To the individuals in the national security field, I URGE YOU to be smart about engaging online.  To be skeptical and suspicious.  To not, damnit, ruin this for the rest of us.

I'd also like to applaud the individuals who called attention to the situation. While it did not unfold, lets say, as professionally as possible attention was nonetheless called to some questionable behavior.  You showed the healthy dose of skepticism and suspicion needed.  Kudos.

Readers, what are your thoughts?