This blog has spent the longest time in draft of any I’ve ever written. I wasn’t even sure I’d ever publish it. The dust has only recently settled.
Not usually at a loss for words, this story – my story – has been more than a little challenging for me to write.
You might think what I’m about to say is pretty ridiculous given the amount of tweets I clock up in a week, the many photos I share and the volume of places I check-into; but for all my online and social bravado… I’m actually a very private person.
I’m naturally predisposed to introspection.
I’m occupationally suspicious.
I’m a wallflower without a wingperson.
I can count on one hand the people I’ve met and immediately felt at ease with.
I’m allergic to bullshit – the only games I’m interested in playing are of the sporting variety; clearly, I’ll never be a diplomat.
I have some hard and fast rules about who I let into my personal space – both in a real life sense and privately online; and like an episode of survivor – once I vote you off my social island, that’s it. I’m done.
I voted someone off my social island recently.
And in setting them socially adrift, I was confronted with the extent of just how cyber-stalked I had been.
Occupationally, I should have seen this coming.
I should have seen those red flags long before I did.
So why didn’t I?
Why did this person fly under my radar?
I’ve often written that your privacy online is inherently entrusted to the network you are connected to. I can tell you without doubt that this is true: because my stalker was a trusted insider.
One of the first things they teach you in law enforcement is not to use your spidey senses and jedi mind tricks on your family and friends. You can’t live your life looking through the kaleidoscope of operational acuity without driving yourself insane with paranoia, and driving those closest to you away.
My guard was down. Having established themselves as a part of my offline life, this trusted insider already had access to my private social media networks. Why wouldn’t they? People these days are easily offended at ignored friends requests and rebuffed follow backs.
But what happens when someone in your trusted ‘friends’ network crosses the line between friend and stalker? When your private posts, pictures and check-ins are no longer protected by the inherent trust given when you make a connection?
I wasn’t going commando on social media – far from it. I am a conscious and very present participant on all my social media channels; but I didn’t know who was really keeping tabs on me either.
Needless to say, my circle of social trust is now much tighter. Like any good party, it’s about who you know who can get you on the guest list.
Those partying on my social island know that their extant invitation to my private-social-ibiza is contingent upon their having my best interests at heart. Sounds harsh until you’re discoing on the checked-in dance floor playing a game of escape and foursquare evade.
Really… it’s not as fun as it sounds.
Are you free-buffing it? Are You Going Commando on Social Media?
For those in the military and law enforcement fraternities, and even those who aren’t – there are lessons to be learned from my experience.
Cyber-stalking and stalking are just modern words for spying: or if you’re in the game – espionage. While my situation was a case of infatuation – it could have easily been more professionally sinister.
To those in roles of trust, espionage via social media is a very real threat.
By default, the trust you place in those you connect with on social media is the level of privacy you are affording yourself. This makes knowing your connections offline or vetting them through your existing networks essential. It makes locking down the social media profiles you want to keep private critical.
Cyber-spies have a myriad of ways to achieve their mission- from cultivating human sources, establishing themselves as trusted insiders, gaining access to people and property to establishing a false cover for other nefarious activities.
And it’s a two way enterprise: not only can social networks be used to spy; but they can also be used to identify targets based on how ‘commando-they-go’ on their social streams.
Take a look at your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Instagram posts over the past month (for the purpose of this exercise it doesn’t matter if they are locked down or public).
What do your photos, check-ins and comments say about you?
Are you geo-tagging your location with every post?
Your social history tells a story.
It leaves digital breadcrumbs.
About where you frequent, when and with whom.
About what you like to do – and when, from where your local drinking hole is, to golf and picnics with your kids on the beach. From the clothes you wear to the people you follow, your social streams are a gold mine of data for social engineers on an espionage mission
Are you an easy target?
If your finger is hovering above the ‘Delete Account’ button on Facebook and Foursquare right about now – back it up; we’re not there yet.
There is a much easier way to secure your privacy and mitigate the risk of social espionage – know your connections offline. Or at the very least vet them and establish their bona fides before you connect. If someone in your network can’t vouch for them, don’t add them.
If a connection gives you cause for concern – vote them off your social island.
A big thank you to @TheKateSpace – not only for the editorial oversight on this piece, but most of all, for being my super-awesome friend.